KENT-repreneur Episode 4: Living Architecture

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Anna Huntsman

The fourth episode of KENT-repreneur focuses on innovation in science. Kent State students are getting real-world experience studying living architecture, and a KSU professor, Dr. Reid Coffman, is leading the way in national research.

Listen to “KENT-repreneur Episode 4: Living Architecture” on Spreaker.

Before becoming a professor in Kent State’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED), Coffman worked as a landscape architect and designer of habitats for threatened and endangered species, which sparked his interest in living architecture.

“I loved that stuff so much, but I liked living in the city,” Coffman said. “So I found vegetative roof systems to be a place where wildlife habitat was existing in a very unique way.”

Living architecture is more than just vegetative roof systems, also known as green roofs. Coffman said the concept is broadly defined.

“In a general sense in the way we’re using it … it is used to describe any biological or ecological function that a building or its surfaces or processes take on to become more environmentally responsible, and to serve a larger purpose for environmental awareness,” he said.

Coffman said living architecture can be speculative, meaning the design is exploratory, or applied, where the design is physically put into place.

“Some of the very basic examples of living architecture would be a vegetative roof system that is applied to a building roof,” he said. “It may have some ecological services, such as the interception of light to keep the building cool, which would reduce its energy expenditures. It could capture rainfall, so it would reduce stormwater runoff.”

Coffman said green roofs can have more advanced environmental effects as well. “They can, in part, recover some of the lost habitat for wildlife,” he said.

Kent State has two buildings with green roofs: the Center for Architecture and Environmental Design and Taylor Hall.

Advancements in living architecture are happening in both the field as well as in the classroom, and there is now a national effort to bridge the gap between the professional field and academia.

Two organizations, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and the Green Infrastructure Foundation, started four ‘centers of living architecture’ throughout North America. The centers aren’t physical buildings; rather, they are groups of scholars and professionals that meet to provide research, training and activities that revolve around living architecture.

Kent State was picked to help lead one in the Great Lakes region called The Greater Ohio Living Architecture Center (GOLA) along with The University of Cincinnati and Heidelberg University in Tiffin. 

Coffman serves as GOLA’s director.

“What we do is get together on the different campuses and get to know each other, and we bring our students and they get to know each other,” Coffman said. “What the real … mission of what GOLA is to not only reach out to the international groups, but it’s to create a place where people who are interested in living architecture can come and be together as a community and share their knowledge, and then develop future questions about how they move forward.”

Coffman said GOLA will also benefit students because it’s a networking opportunity for them. In addition, many want to pursue careers in living architecture, especially in major cities where green roofs are required in policies. Coffman said cities throughout the U.S. also have green roof incentives, including Cleveland.

“Cleveland’s kind of interesting because it actually has a lot of really good examples and it has a lot of really good (roofing) companies here, but it needs to advocate more, and that’s one of the things that GOLA is going to help,” he said. “It will help the industries who are already doing excellent work in this region kind of promote and explain what they’ve already been doing, let alone what they’ll be doing in the future.”

Coffman said people from all over the world applied to be a part of the regional centers. He said KSU had an advantage because the architecture program offers Masters degrees in green roofs and classes about living architecture. There are only a handful of colleges that have these concentrations.

One of Coffman’s goals is to make classes in living architecture available to any student who is interested, even if they’re outside of CAED.

“I have a new course that is going to be a May intersession course for any student, undergraduate or graduate, to be exposed to green roofs and walls,” he said. “I’m excited. It’s going to be a green roofs course for anyone.”

Spreading the word about living architecture is part of GOLA as well. The center’s first seminar will be held in CAED’s Cleveland studios at the end of May, and it’s open to the public.

Coffman said it’s important for everyone to learn about living architecture.

“The reason I’m encouraging living architecture and the integration of living systems into buildings is that we spend (the) majority of our time in buildings because that’s our habitat as people,” he said. “By integrating living systems into them, we’re not only better people, but we’re able to … deal with the issues of sustainability, but we’re also … showing that we’re better stewards of the world because we’re starting to care, on a very intimate level, for other organisms.”

For more information about GOLA, check out the official website at