Governor General’s Medal Winner: RTC 03


The glass block utility building glows softly at night.

LOCATION Edmonton, Alberta
ARCHITECT gh3 architecture

The built environment plays a central role in the sustainability and resiliency of our life on this planet. While climate change impacts many areas, foremost among the resources that humans must learn to use less of—and to care better for—is water.

Many regions of Canada are seeing hotter weather and more energetic storms, overwhelming existing municipal stormwater infrastructure. The Real Time Control Building #3 (RTC 03) is part of the City of Edmonton’s expanded urban ecosystem strategy. RTC 03 plays a central role in reducing untreated run-off and sewage flowing into the North Saskatchewan River.

Situated by the riverbank, on the corner of 84th Street NW and Jasper Avenue just east of the downtown core, the project invests in the design of its site and plant enclosure. It celebrates the importance of municipal infrastructure and recognizes the role infrastructure buildings play in shaping the city.

Exploded axonometric of building and sewer system; site and building plan

The facility is engineered for state-of-the-art handling and treatment of urban water, accommodating the dynamic loading of urban stormwater and wastewater. The architecture makes this below-ground process apparent: the form of the main underground shaft is notionally extruded to create the circular enclosure for plant equipment on the surface, and the location of secondary shafts, in-take tunnels, and out-take tunnels is telegraphed through the paving pattern. This imbues the site with an interpretive strategy and signals that RTC 03 is part of a larger, complex system.

The building envelope is made of structural steel and stud framing, a 10” cavity, and an outer skin of angled glass blocks. Using a familiar cladding material in a new way involved technical challenges, such as fabricating zig-zag control joints. The result is a simple, luminous veil laid over the inner workings of the building.

The envelope is made of diagonally laid glass blocks, with structural steel and stud framing behind

The cavity between the glass block façade and the inner structure acts as a thermal plenum. Through stack effect and mechanical ventilation, air is drawn through louvres at the base of the façade and vented at the roof edge.

The enclosure sits on a tarmac surface, accommodating service vehicles and lay-down areas for the building’s removable roof. The site’s surface water drains to a gutter at the base of the glass block wall, where it is then recirculated into the main shaft.

In addition to the water handling shafts, the building also houses gas monitoring and ventilation equipment, gate actuators, a generator room, noise control mechanisms, a motor control centre, a washroom and base building mechanical rooms.

The base detail includes a gutter where site water is collected and channeled into the main water control shaft.

RTC 03 is a model for civil engineering and architectural projects to lead the way in both performance and public profile. Instead of treating infrastructure as existing invisibly in the background, the design generates attention, curiosity and interest. It prompts us to learn about the essential role of water infrastructure in our urban environment, and raises public awareness of how we interact with our ecosystems.

:: Jury Comments ::  In one sense, RTC 03 is a humble piece of technical equipment—but it is also an intriguing and luminous sculpture in the city. Its precise details support a mysterious architectural experience, not dictated by scale or program. It also has a key function to play in the sustainable management of water resources in Edmonton. In this small but powerful project, the jury saw the potential to transform civic expectations of what engineering infrastructure can be.

PROJECT TEAM Pat Hanson, Raymond Chow, Joel Di Giacomo | CLIENT City of Edmonton | MECHANICAL Vital Engineering | electrICAL AB Electrical | civil V3 Companies of Canada Ltd. | STRUCTURAL Chernenko Engineering | CONTRACTOR Maple Reinders | OCCUPANCY november 1, 2015 | BUDGET $1.2 M