Tag Archives: sustainable design

Engineering Greener Development: Bioswales to Bioretention

(this is an article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

Our climate is changing—our range of weather is getting more extreme—and at the same time we are more aware than ever of our need to use energy wisely. The dramatic environmental, social, and economic consequences related to climate change reinforce the need to plan for energy sustainability in a way that balances growth and environmental integrity.

We have been looking at energy efficient building design initiatives, but it’s time we also consider the larger impact of site planning. While UrbanToronto more often looks at high-density development, it is important to remember that building is rapidly taking place in more suburban locations throughout the GTA, where people are seeking larger lots and lower densities. Those communities are always going to be more resource intensive, but there are ways to mitigate that impact, and planners can evaluate how they are designed from an energy perspective. You can achieve savings in a broad sense, for example, by creating communities that are more walkable, simply by virtue of land use planning techniques that concentrate development to reduce the amount of vehicle trips that are necessary to achieve day-to-day needs.

Stormwater management ponds are designed to collect and retain urban stormwater and release it slowly. Photo courtesy of LSRCA.

Stormwater management ponds are designed to collect and retain urban stormwater and release it slowly. Photo courtesy of LSRCA.

Municipalities see to issues like stormwater management, low impact development (LID), domestic water savings targets, and master planning that adheres to transit-supportive and walkability guidelines.

Stormwater has become a very serious concern for municipalities. What it really refers to is water balance. By paving over naturalized surfaces and creating more hardscapes, we change the flow of water on a site. This continued paving leads to a cumulative increase in runoff volume and flow duration that results in increased streambank erosion and sedimentation, the risk of flooding, and high concentrations of contaminants. Despite having stormwater controls in place, the health and quality of many urban rivers and streams continues to decline. And if last year’s record rainfall is any indication, climate change only exacerbates the problem.

In 2012, Enbridge Gas Distribution along with Sustainable Buildings Canada launched a green building initiative called Savings By Design (SBD) in response to a mandate of the Ontario Energy Board. The program encourages residential and commercial developers to build more sustainably by providing financial incentives and support for projects that reach an energy reduction target of 25% better than the Ontario Building Code 2012.

While the program is primarily driven by the energy savings of a building, with developers focused on its envelope and HVAC systems, Enbridge’s SBD program also works with municipalities to broaden the scope to address the larger site issues.

The pivotal part of SBD is the charrette, an intensive design workshop, which gathers a group of green building experts, engineers, architects and contractors together to evaluate a project proposal in its earliest phase. Through the program’s Integrated Design Process (IDP), the team looks at various solutions and identifies the most effective ways to construct a building for optimum energy performance. When dealing with a larger terrain involving a community or site plan, the group expands to include ecologists, geologists, and planners.

Green landscaping within impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, can help reduce runoff.

Green landscaping within impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, can help reduce runoff.

We spoke with municipal planning experts who bring a stormwater management and natural heritage protection point of view to the table. They have collaborated with developers and SBD to test out a number of sustainability objectives on projects ranging from industrial lands to residential subdivisions.

Mike Walters, General Manager of the Watershed Management Department at the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, is dedicated to maintaining and enhancing pre-development hydrologic site conditions. According to Walters, we need to make big changes if we want to achieve our water quality, quantity and aquatic targets and accommodate new urban growth. “It will require more green infrastructure (e.g. LID); new policy, regulation and enforcement; and, exploring other ‘end-of-pipe’ strategies.”

The development industry can benefit from a more integrated, holistic design approach. “Where you’re at in the planning process will impact what you can do,” says Dan Stone, planner and Manager of Economic Development & Sustainability at the Town of East Gwillimbury. Ideally, it is at the very start, at the pre-consultation level, before there is a road network or a plan in place. The collaborative approach taken by SBD contributes toward the design by determining where you can infiltrate and by suggesting street layouts, location of parks, configuration of sidewalks, and how to reduce the amount of impervious area.

Landscaped spaces can transform street surfaces into living stormwater management facilities. Photo by Artful Rainwater Design.

Landscaped spaces can transform street surfaces into living stormwater management facilities. Photo by Artful Rainwater Design.

The benefits of the SBD program are numerous. For one, the access to multi-disciplinary specialists who can advise on the design is free (the charrette is paid for by Enbridge). Then, of course, there are incentives if performance standards are met. And, adds Stone, “There is the good press associated with working with the municipality and trying to achieve its sustainability goals; the local community and Councillors appreciate the effort. It’s a completely voluntary program. No risk, no obligation.”

But, the key benefit that resonates most with developers is an approval process that unfolds more smoothly and with fewer surprises. The process is typically lengthy and the development industry is sensitive to that fact: nowhere is the adage ‘Time is money’ more apt.

“The beauty of the IDP is that it puts a lot of good decision making at the front end of the process. You engage with the regulatory authorities early on and get a clear understanding of the municipality’s priorities and a sense of what kind of things are non-starters. You’re giving the proponents the heads up for things to watch out for. That to me, from a municipal planning perspective, is the best value added. Developers can try to perfect their application and get it approved faster – and to market quicker – because they got insights at the very front end,” says Stone.

By implementing Low Impact Development principles, water can be managed in a way that reduces the impact of built areas and promotes the natural movement of it within a watershed. “You’re putting clean water back where it belongs so it can support natural features. This program looks at water not as waste but as a resource, and that’s what I like about it too,” says Walters. But it is more than just applying stormwater Best Management Practices, like vegetated swales, rain gardens, infiltration basins or porous pavers. It requires a change in urban design principles and public acceptance.

“We’ve had developers take innovative steps and risks associated with stormwater management. The environment will win, they will win, the process is quicker, and there is an incentive from Enbridge. What is the downside?” asks Walters.

The industry seems to be responding. “I don’t think the value is from any one individual project,” says Stone. “The value is what the program has been able to add to the whole discussion about sustainable development.”

For more information on the Savings by Design program, visit the website http://www.savingsbydesign.ca/

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and a writer specializing in architecture and design. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

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Mario Ribeiro of Triumph talks Howard Park Residences

(this is an interview I did and article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

UrbanToronto’s Stephanie Calvet sat down with C.E.O. Mario Ribeiro of Triumph Developments to talk about Howard Park Residences, an urban infill project at the intersection of Dundas and Howard Park in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood. The first phase, an 8-storey building (far right)   is under construction. Now the company is bringing its Phase Two western counterpart to the market. They will be joined by a multi-storey linking element, with the common entry and courtyard located between the two.

Looking north towards Howard Park Residences, Phases 1 & 2, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Looking north towards Howard Park Residences, Phases 1 & 2, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

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Photo of existing site – looking northeast from Howard Park Ave. Triumph Developments’ Roncesvalles Lofts project is in the background.

The site, with its odd triangular geometry, was previously home to a service station, aging garages and warehouses (see above). Removing these former industrial activities is an opportunity to tie eclectic Dundas and Roncesvalles Avenues, and to rethink the site as an active part of the public flow with a typology that combines high build density with a commercial program.

RAW Design, a local architecture firm with a portfolio of innovative mid-rise infill projects, crafted the buildings to the site and low-rise residential surroundings, breaking down the scale through massing and detailing. Vegetation that grows on each of its stepped metal terraces at the top floors imparts a softness to the elevation, inextricably part of the ‘look’ of the building that Triumph is committed to providing.

Linking element between Phase 1 (right) and 2 (left), image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Linking element between Phase 1 (right) and 2 (left), image courtesy of Triumph Developments

The project required an amendment to the existing zoning by-law to convert it from industrial to residential and mixed use. How has the project been received by the community?

It was well received. We’ve had no community pushback and lots of support from planners and the councillor. The community asked if commercial space was possible and we integrated that idea into the design.

What sorts of establishments would you like to see occupying the first floor retail/commercial spaces?

We are not looking for large franchises. This is a trendy neighbourhood. We are subdividing the space and hoping to get a variety of small shops, a daycare, maybe a bookstore…

There is more than the typical mix of unit types here. Who is your intended end-user? Is there anything larger than a 2-bedroom plus den?

We have a vast array of styles catered to a lot of different tastes: units tailored to the young professional, units with patios, units for families, including 3- and 4-bedrooms… Our biggest unit is 1400sf. We also have five 2-storey townhomes.

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

 

 

 

What building amenity program did your team develop that, from your standpoint, is in line with what residents want and need, practically speaking?

Because of the nature of the neighbourhood, there are lots of local amenities within walking distance. To keep construction costs and condo fees down, we provide typical meeting rooms, lounge, a media room, and gym but no pool.

The base building is charcoal-coloured brick and glass and then at the 6th floor, there is a shift both in plan and in exterior cladding. What material is used for the remaining storeys?

It is metal cladding and it goes with the window system. It is also perforated to allow plants to grab onto it.

Incorporating vegetation on the façade will give the building a very interesting presence on the street and from afar. This amount of ‘building green’ is unprecedented in Toronto…

The cascading vines, green roofs and planters will be maintained by the Condo Board as part of the ‘common area’, and not up to each individual owner to maintain. That will keep it looking uniform. There is no stormwater tank but water will be dealt with on site through a combination of stormwater management solutions.

Relative locations of Howard Park and Roncesvalles Lofts by Triumph Developments

Relative locations of Howard Park and Roncesvalles Lofts by Triumph Developments

The site has access to transit (streetcar, subway, one of the stops of the new Union Pearson Express), lots of grade-level bike storage and a great Walk Score. What is the buildings’ parking ratio? Any provision for electrical vehicles?

The parking ratio is around 65-70% suites to parking stalls. At the moment, we’re seeing only 1 out of every 2 units asking for parking and the explanation is that the building is so well serviced by transit. On the other hand, bicycle spots are aplenty and they are in big demand. As for electrical vehicles, that is not final yet. In Phase 2, we provide storage lockers on the upper levels – so that residents have a locker almost across the hall. It became possible because we had to be creative in utilizing the oddly shaped resultant spaces in the core so we located storage lockers and services there.

It is great that parking and service access will be situated along the shared laneway off Howard Park Ave, making the lengthy (650′) Howard streetfront more pedestrian-friendly and accessible for building, townhome and retail entries. Was it a challenge to locate it behind the building?

It might have been easier to situate it between the two buildings but it would have destroyed the look of the complex, and we didn’t want to interrupt the sidewalk. This way it’s off the laneway into Phase 1 and the parking garage under both buildings is all connected.

The building integrates many green initiatives: infill site, brownfield, green roofs, geothermal, stormwater, bike storage, etc. Are you going to take it through the LEED certification process?

Not LEED, although the plaque would look great on the wall! I’ve gone through the process as a trade on other projects and it is painstaking and very difficult administrating all the paperwork. We will comply with Toronto Green Standard Tier 2.

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Looking west towards Phase 2 at Howard Park Residences, image courtesy of Triumph Developments

Incorporating geothermal systems (for heating and cooling) in condo building is not common practice in Toronto but the City gives government rebates and interest-free loans to help residential developers ‘go green’. Would you have incorporated it anyways because of the policy of your company or were government financial incentives necessary to make it reach the ROI you were expecting?

We didn’t get any government incentives. We started the process 3 years ago. Geothermal made economic sense in the long term because, if well implemented, it will save on the operation of the building.

Triumph has a keen focus on advancing and promoting sustainability, much like developers like TAS, Minto, and Tridel claim. Any market difference between them and yourselves?

Our scale of projects is smaller. The green initiatives on our buildings are maybe not as cost effective at this scale as Minto would do it. But we’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do – that’s the initial motivation – not for marketability reasons.

You have a European background. What aspects of European planning and design would you like to see inform building in Toronto?

Families living in mid-rise buildings is very common in Europe and we don’t see it as much here but I think there is a demand and a trend moving in that direction. I’d like to see buildings inserted into established neighbourhoods so families have access to amenities for their day-to-day, where they can can live and work close by, and people may even be able to go home for lunch. Large courtyard features, shared backyards, schools within walking distance, and several generations living in the same building – these are intimate living examples that I was familiar with. There is a sense of family and unity. We had these ideas in mind for our first project, Roncesvalles Lofts, and they continue to be valid for Howard Park. It is not a 25-storey structure; this is a place that makes sense to have an 8-storey building. It is a ‘community’ where you get to know your neighbours. The project will house 96 units – not a huge amount of people – and it is not intended to be transient with mainly short term rentals. Hopefully people move here and stay for a lifetime.

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

Advancing Green Building Innovation Through Design Charrettes

There’s a wealth of resources available for anyone minded to go the route of sustainable building, including plenty of information, best practices, assessment tools, and precedents. Builders are looking to deliver a practical, marketable and cost effective product. While developing more responsibly may be a goal for some, barriers to changing practices often come down to cost and lack of consumer awareness. Unfortunately, in the reality we currently find ourselves in, the most effective way to encourage sustainable strategies for building projects is through legislation and financial incentives.

Savings By Design (SBD) is one such initiative. The first program of its kind in Canada, SBD was launched in 2012 by Enbridge Gas Distribution in collaboration with Sustainable Buildings Canada (SBC) to facilitate an easier transition to green building innovation. As a key stakeholder, Enbridge’s interest is in total energy savings and therefore it devised a way to help make higher-efficiency performance more attainable to commercial and residential builders by providing funding and support during the design, construction and commissioning stages of projects. It also fulfills a mandate of the Ontario Energy Board.

The overarching goal is that buildings achieve 25% energy savings — or more — over the minimum requirements of the Ontario Building Code (OBC) 2012.

Enbrige-sponsored IDP charrette at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Enbrige-sponsored IDP charrette at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

What makes the program unique is its collaborative, results-driven, process-based approach. Those enrolled have access to SBC’s broad network of green building experts who collectively evaluate a building proposal in its planning or early schematic phase and whose feedback can significantly improve the outcome of its final design. The methodology that is used is called Integrated Design Process (IDP) and it is focused on designing for the entire building life cycle. It helps builders identify optimal solutions for enhancing energy efficiency, occupant health and ecological benefits through customized workshops.

At the heart of the program is the IDP ‘charrette’, a pivotal full-day activity that brings these building industry professionals together to explore a number of design scenarios in an open discussion forum. It also gives the building team the opportunity to define priorities for improvement and to test those concepts through energy modelling.

UrbanToronto’s Stephanie Calvet recently attended one of these charrettes.

Held at the Earth Rangers Centre in Woodbridge, Ontario, this full-day event gathered a team of individuals with a wide range of expertise – engineers, contractors, building specialists, modelling experts, and independent observers. At the table was the developer/client Great Gulf with a proposal for a large suburban development consisting of 450 homes with a mix of detached and townhome styles.

Prior to the charrette, a Visioning Session between proponents and SBC was held in order to ascertain clients’ sustainability objectives with regards to their project. This initial meeting focuses on aspirations and core purposes and it establishes the goals that ultimately guide the charrette.

'Energy team' charrette participants review energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

‘Energy team’ charrette participants review energy modelling results. Photo by S. Calvet.

Depending on the scale and complexity of a project, participants are organized into teams. In accordance with IDP, the program also considers factors beyond energy efficiency that contribute to building sustainability. For this particular project, two groups were created: the more technical ‘energy team’ focused its efforts on the building envelope and mechanicals (space and water heating); and, the ‘sustainability team’ addressed site strategies and indoor environmental quality.

The objective of the ‘energy team’ is to study a preliminary project design and identify methods for it to meet energy efficiency performance targets. Although many elements contribute to heat loss, the biggest losers are, by far, the windows and walls. Therefore, when considering energy improvements, it is most logical to consider providing the best possible building envelope that meets the budget prior to upgrading mechanical systems.

From the perspective of the developer, the objective is to understand the potential impacts to cost and schedule to exceed the code regulations and other potential energy targets while also meeting the expectations of the buyer, maximizing density and profitability. For residential builders, there is an incentive of up to $2,000 per home (up to a maximum of 50 homes or $100,000) for achieving energy performance 25% better than OBC 2012.

The program requires that the buildings be modelled to show net energy savings.

'Energy team' charrette participants review wall assebly energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

‘Energy team’ charrette participants review wall assebly energy modelling results. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

During the charrette the team examined measures, assemblies and technologies to achieve modelled performance improvements over the benchmark reference (code) building. Assessments were done using BIM software that can model the impacts of the modifications on building environmental performance as they are considered, on the fly, with the SBD real-time model as an evaluation tool. Exterior wall composition was studied in great detail, as were glazing options and the effects of basement full under-slab insulation vs perimeter only. Alternative configurations at a similar cost were also explored, presenting builders with different avenues to meet their criteria.

The incorporation of external shades, LED lighting, programmable thermostats, and Energy Star appliances as potential upgrades was also discussed.

The ‘sustainability team,’ on the other hand, addressed site design approaches such as: water conservation, soil and waste issues, and the benefits of low impact development.

With an emphasis on creating tightly contained buildings to minimize heat loss – a strategy that’s been in place since the 1950s – there has been renewed awareness for the need to improve indoor air quality (IAQ), as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants. Source control, filtration and the use of ventilation to dilute contaminants are the primary methods. Facilitators at the event presented practical guidelines for designing healthful indoor environments (i.e. specify low-VOC products) and suggested strategies for quality control (i.e. seal and protect ductwork during construction).

The team also discussed material options to upgrade durability as well as marketing opportunities for builders exploring the integration of sustainable practices into their brand. Some ways to make the case may include negotiating with suppliers, creating economies of scale, and demonstrating return on investment.

Working sessions continued throughout the afternoon and SBC gave an informative presentation of stormwater management best practices. Participants reconvened at the end of the day for a summary of discussions and a presentation of the modelling findings.

Enbrige-sponsored design charrette held at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by Stephanie Calvet.

Enbrige-sponsored design charrette held at Earth Rangers Centre. Photo by S. Calvet.

In conclusion, the builders came away with various options to go forward and were pleased to discover that with slight modifications to the homes’ existing design, exceeding reference energy performance by 25% is well within reach. A final report that summarizes the results of all these efforts will be presented to them.

The charrettes have become a sought-after tool for driving sustainable thinking in the Canadian building industry. Programs like Savings by Design not only incentivize builders to develop more responsibly through financial incentives but they also provide access to a multi-disciplinary team of designers and experts to help them achieve their goals.

For more information on the Savings by Design program, visit the website  http://www.savingsbydesign.ca/

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at www.stephaniecalvet.com

Sustainable Design a Key Component of DUKE Condos

(this is an interview I gave and article I wrote for UrbanToronto)

Stephanie Calvet sat down with Michelle Xuereb, architect and sustainability strategist at Quadrangle Architects, to discuss the green aspects of DUKE Condo’s design. The mid-rise building, which takes its name from an amalgam of Dundas and Keele streets in The Junction, is under development by TAS.

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The latest rendering of what DUKE will look like, as designed by Quadrangle Architects, image courtesy of TAS.

TAS has been trumpeting the lengths they are going to, to create a sustainable condominium building in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood since launching DUKE Condos last year. It is encouraging to see a developer raise the bar beyond what the building requirements call for.

For TAS, it is about building community, about being a good neighbour, and understanding there is a social, economic, cultural and ecological side to everything. TAS is motivated to build their business philosophy, outlined in their ‘Four Pillars of Sustainability’, into all of their projects.

Was the decision at DUKE to ‘go green’ to the degree that it is in anticipation of new energy efficiency regulations in the building code?

For this site, they have to comply with City of Toronto Tier 1 and the Green Roof Bylaw. Anything above that is their own initiative.

High window-to-wall ratios are a current condominium design practice in Toronto, a feature that seems market-driven, not rooted in energy performance. How do we reconcile that with the fact that significant energy savings are available in building envelopes with less glazing?

I think it is actually more developer driven, and also driven by economics. Putting up a window wall system is straightforward and quick – it makes everything happen faster. Sales took off on this building and it is not floor-to-ceiling glass. I believe you have to put something out there so people realize they want it. DUKE has a specific character and people are attracted to that – and the scale is right, the materiality feels good, and it is just standard materials: windows, brick, and some metal siding. It is quite simple but it is a different approach than just cladding in glass.

Which aspect of the building’s design do you think has the biggest impact in terms of sustainability? Through which methods did you assess net energy savings?

The envelope is key. It’s about getting window-to-wall ratio down— 40-50% is where you want to be—using the best glazing possible, and reducing thermal bridging as much as possible. The window will always be the weakest link in the building so the more you can shrink that aperture, the less heat you’re losing. At DUKE we’re using aluminum frames and the glazing is argon filled with a low-e coating. At Quadrangle, we design what we think is the right thing to do and we have to be asked to do less. We feel we have to lead that way. The bonus from the recent Toronto Green Standard changes is that it makes it a level playing field for all developers – everyone has to do this. We do energy modelling early in the process.

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South-facing terraces with built-in planters at DUKE Condo designed by Quadrangle Architects for TAS

There’s great citywide interest in local and organic food. DUKE’s south side terraces are being lined with built-in planters that can be used for home gardening. Are you ‘leading the way’ by incorporating this feature into the design or is it in response to social shifts and increased demand for urban agriculture in residential developments?

There are various non-profit organizations out there advocating food policy in buildings, trying to push legislation, trying to speak to developers about how to make food happen. We too are working with these companies to help promote and push these initiatives – for one, we put food production ideas in our renderings. There’s no reason your front garden can’t have edible food. And TAS has been doing it from their side as well. We are all hoping that it really takes off. And the planters came out of another reason as well: affording neighbours to the south some privacy by having the depth of this green buffer, rather than just a railing. When there are multiple reasons why an element makes sense, it’s likely to stay ingrained in the building, and not get value engineered out.

Standard suites include engineered hardwood flooring, water-conserving fixtures, energy efficient appliances, programmable thermostats, and Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) to reduce energy demands and enhance air quality. Have these innovations come down in price so that the developer can provide them as part of the standard offerings?

There are a lot of things that have become more standard, like low-VOC flooring or paint, and it has become a requirement to provide energy metering to each suite. ERVs haven’t really come down in cost – the additional ductwork costs everybody more – but TAS has elected to do this anyway because it’s about improving indoor air quality and it’s something they can market.

A total of 25% of the parking stalls will be equipped with an electrical outlet for plug-in and provisions were made for future energizing of the other spaces. Will you provide a central bank of dedicated charging stations? What does that mean for the electrical capacity of the building for each space to have the possibility of EV chargers? Why go this route instead of the (less costly) car-share option?

This is a goal of TAS’ to do this. At one point we had a car share vehicle space within the building but there’s enough within the neighbourhood. The way things are going in the future, it will become more and more economical to have a plug-in electric vehicle. People in North America are pretty attached to their individual car ownership. To provide infrastructure for people to have plug-in electric is about future-proofing the building. But as for how it’s specifically going to work at DUKE, whether they will run it to a panel that is individually metered, we haven’t finalized it yet.

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Southeast corner of DUKE Condo, designed by Quadrangle Architects for TAS

As per the city’s Green Roof Bylaw, certain % coverage of the roof is required to be a green roof, based on the building’s gross floor area. Which system will you provide at DUKE?

It will be a drought-resistant, low-profile, extensive green roof (vs intensive – where you can plant trees and shrubs). Probably a tray system. Green roofs raise your top of roof that much higher, so you have to be careful of how you distribute the heights because you lose potential area if the roof is too thick, plus you have to consider structure. There is always a trade-off.

The benefits of a green roof are multifold. Do you believe that in the near future, sky-gardens will become both desirable and inevitable as part of a growing cityscape?

I wish it would become more prevalent because we see it as a positive attribute. Right now, green roofs cost more money and the market isn’t necessarily looking for it, so we’re not there yet. And the Bylaw % requirements aren’t high enough in terms of how much you are obligated to provide for anything more than something quite basic, i.e. a low-profile extensive roof. If the developer wants to build a lot more, it’s just additional expense and if they can’t use it as a marketing tool, chances are they won’t opt to go that route.

How do you think we can best encourage that sustainable strategies be followed on all building projects, from conception through construction to furnishing?

There have to be financial incentives and legislation, otherwise it won’t happen, as well as the fact the City of Toronto itself has taken a leadership position on this: 15% better than the current building code. That level is really the 2017 version of the code. It’s those sorts of energy initiatives – being a certain percentage better than code – that have been happening at the municipal and the provincial level, which have been pushing the envelope.

There is always cost involved with change, i.e. change from traditional to sustainable construction practices. Consumer awareness about conservation and low impact development issues is key and people might be interested in ‘doing the right thing’, but when the rubber meets the road, they aren’t always willing to pay more. What could be the facilitating mechanism that will encourage consumers to make the extra effort for eco-friendly avenues knowing that payback will come later?

I’d say it’s the consumer, the purchaser. At the end of the day, it’s the cost per square foot, and they want to know they are getting a certain kind of countertop. Right now, what I’m hearing from marketing folk is that people don’t want to pay for ‘green’ initiatives, they think that the buildings should come with them. The green is just part of the story that people are expecting to see as opposed to it being an add-on, and having to pay more for it. To me what would be interesting would be a developer who would work really hard to bring those numbers (maintenance fees) down and the way to do that would be to provide an extremely durable building.  

Stephanie Calvet is an architect and architectural writer based in Toronto. She can be found at  www.stephaniecalvet.com

LEED the way

If you get the chance to visit the Genzyme Center, I say seize it. Together with other architects, I recently participated in a tour of its world headquarters building at Cambridge’s Kendall Square, a world-renowned biomedical research campus. Frequent tours are routinely conducted and for good reason: this is not your average office building. We keeners went specifically to learn how it earned a top-notch platinum rating in LEED, an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the United States Green Building Council.

Our guides explained how the architect, Stefan Behnisch, took the stance of designing ‘from the inside out’, and the core values on which the design is predicated: “innovation, transparency, and collaboration.” Though there was no sustainability agenda at the onset, a determination to “do it right” drove all the design decisions, with nothing left to chance. (fyi, the company’s website highlights the barrage of green strategies used and the resultant paybacks in Energy savings.)

We hovered mainly in the 12-storey central atrium around which the building is organized. Dangling several stories deep, an enormous chandelier made of suspended prismatic tiles reflects and bounces light in a playful way, creating ‘rainbows’ on the surrounding surfaces and a sense of continuous movement. Cutting-edge technology tracks the sun’s position and with heliostats on the roof, mirrors, and louvers, light is vertically guided deep into the building. The openness of the spaces not only maximizes daylight but also enhances communication by fostering interaction among people circulating between lounges and work areas, mezzanines, ‘floating’ staircases, and glass elevators in an almost ‘see and be seen,’ theatrical kind of way.

Other big selling points: interior gardens; frequently-positioned microclimate controls giving users the flexibility to control individual workspace temperature/humidity and light levels; and, a cafeteria atypically located on the uppermost floor, for all employees to partake in sweeping panoramic views of Boston and Cambridge. Sweet.

Who wouldn’t want to work here? People are democratically distributed throughout the building because every spot has some environmental perk to it. Human-resource benefits of sustainable design can be profound – there are lots of data to back that up. (Mental images of happy/healthy workers toiling away).Overall this is an excellent building, highly relevant for the future. Choice client. Choice budget. And although ‘green building’ upfront costs are typically higher, there is an ever narrowing price differential between traditional and green construction.

I, too, jumped on the bandwagon and obtained a LEED Accredited Professional status. An interesting Globe and Mail article suggests that the term ‘LEED’ is sometimes banded about, willy-nilly, with developers borrowing the name for instant credibility without their project having actually fulfilled the many requirements to achieve certification. Frankly, whether a project has achieved actual LEED status or has at least pursued guidelines to build greener, the objective has to be positive-impact building. Sustainability efforts have to be integrated into the design.

Architecture and beyond, it’s all the rage… everyone’s going green these days. This can’t be a fad. We’ve all got to strive for the highest degree of environmental responsibility. The challenge is to find new ways to save energy and realign ourselves with the natural world. In the words of the Artefacture, “Design will save the world”.