Building for Equity and Sustainability

2020 ~ Present


This VIP takes as its main focus Georgia Tech’s new Living Building – the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design – and its efforts to advance social equity as one of seven key performance areas in the Living Building Challenge. Students in this class work closely with community partners to support the advancement of equity, resilience, and sustainability in the built environment.

New students will be expected to join and contribute to the on-going project of designing and constructing an outdoor classroom in partnership with the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), an environmental justice organization in southwest Atlanta. This project draws on Kendeda and Georgia Tech resources to design and build at WAWA's Outdoor Activity Center located about a 15-minute drive from campus. Since this is a collaboration with a local community organization, joining this team requires spending some time off campus while coordinating schedules with both students in the class and the community partner. This hands-on design-build opportunity allows both undergraduate and graduate students from all majors and backgrounds with an interest in advancing equity and sustainability while implementing asset-based community development right in Georgia Tech's backyard.

The VIP is a 1-2 credit hour course and is affiliated with Serve-Learn-Sustain (SLS) while fulfilling requirements in both the Sustainable Cities Minor and the SLS Innovating for Social Impact Program. Our multi-disciplinary research team includes GT students, faculty, and staff. Following the VIP model, projects are student-driven, with faculty, staff, and partners serving as advisers. Two on-going student-led projects, the Equity and Sustainability Ratings Systems and Campus Equity and Sustainability Tours sub-teams, will complete the VIP in Spring 2024; as this will be their last semester, they are not accepting new student members.

The team instructors are Jennifer Hirsch (Director, Serve-Learn-Sustain) and Juan Archila (Director of Facilities and Capital Planning, College of Sciences). Jimmy Mitchell of Skanska, who served as Project Manager for Kendeda Building construction, and architect Christian Coles also serve as an adviser to our VIP. Additionally, student sub-teams have advisers from local and national partner organizations.

Issues Involved or Addressed

Georgia Tech and its surrounding communities have been making major strides to advance equity as a key piece of creating a sustainable built environment - and sustainable and resilient communities overall. The Kendeda Building is at the forefront of this innovation. This VIP aims to push Georgia Tech to deepen and broaden its focus on equity as core to sustainability. Our research will explore equity in theory and practice. Our action will involve trying out new ideas about equity to see how they work in practice

Methods and Technologies

  • Qualitative research (fieldwork, interviews, surveys, etc.)
  • Quantitative Research Methods
  • Participatory Action Research
  • Ethical Reasoning
  • Co-designing with Communities
  • Defining Design Objectives
  • Systems Modeling and Analyses

Academic Majors of Interest

  • ComputingComputational Media
  • ComputingComputer Science
  • DesignArchitecture
  • DesignIndustrial Design
  • EngineeringCivil Engineering
  • EngineeringEnvironmental Engineering
  • Ivan AllenHistory, Technology, and Society
  • Ivan AllenPublic Policy
  • Other
  • SciencesPsychology

Preferred Interests and Preparation

  • General interest in exploring and practicing sustainability from a holistic perspective, bringing together all seven LBC petals: place, water, energy, health & happiness, equity, materials and beauty.
  • Interest in transdisciplinary, applied research: working across academic disciplines, with practitioners, to understand and develop theory and connect theory to practice - and then use practice to push theory.
  • All majors interested in learning about sustainability and how it plays out in real-world communities, at GT and beyond.
  • Students interested in urban planning.
  • Students interested in working with communities to design engineering systems.



Part of this VIP's experience is workshops and field trips, either on-campus or off campus, that enhance students' learning and understanding of equity and sustainability. Transportation to nearby communities for site visits is not provided, but instructors help students coordinate rides together. These workshops and field trips are key to the research and work of the sub-teams within the VIP, and therefore they are mandatory. When joining this VIP, we ask students to plan to come to these activities so that they can get the most out of their experience.


Students can take VIP for 1 or 2 credits. We encourage all students to enroll for 2 credits, particularly those intersted in joining the Commnity Engagemetn sub-team. Engaging with community partners is rewarding, but it often takes more coordination and work than typical projects.

Meeting Schedule & Location

Meeting Location 
Meeting Day 

Team Advisors

Jennifer Hirsch
  • Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain
Juan Archila
  • College of Sciences

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