Mainstreaming Green

Last October, more than 1,000 delegates gathered in Oslo, Norway for the Sustainable Building 2002 conference in what has become the premier world-wide gathering covering a vast range of issues relating to sustainable building and development. With almost 400 papers submitted from 45 countries, the conference represents a genuinely global perspective. The Oslo meeting was the third such bi-annual event, the first held in Vancouver in 1998 followed by one in Maastricht, The Netherlands in the fall of 2000.

With the furor around the federal government’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol helping to bring issues of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption to the forefront of the national consciousness, the importance of sustainable building practices cannot be underestimated. A recent press release issued by Canadian architectural educators who met for a national symposium on Greening the Curriculum at the Universit de Montral makes the case with absolute clarity:

The conference mission statement outlined three clear intentions: to indicate the impact of the construction sector on global sustainable development, to disseminate the latest research findings and knowledge, and to demonstrate practical solutions.

These solutions were brought forward both through the Green Building Challenge, which featured exemplary buildings from participating countries, and in papers presented by delegates. The topic areas covered in the individual paper presentations were comprehensive, reflecting the diversity of locations from which delegates were drawn. Subject areas included building performance assessment tools, energy analysis for construction and operation of buildings, design process and practice, materials use–including recycling of buildings and building components–regulatory policies, financial implications and benefits, as well as urban design and infrastructure.

While the presentations covered specific topic areas, the Green Building Challenge featured the synthesis of ideas in built projects drawn from over 20 countries. Each participating country selected projects to be comprehensively analyzed using the assessment framework of the GBTool software originally developed by Ray Cole of the University of British Columbia and Nils Larsson of Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). The tool is designed to provide a method of assessing building performance across national boundaries in widely differing site conditions, using regional benchmark comparisons. This allows for an objective rating without bias to any particular climatic, economic or cultural context, providing a valuable comparison for all stakeholders in the building industry of the relative success of sustainable building initiatives around the world.

Canadian GBC Entries

Three projects from very diverse geographic and climatic locations were selected to represent current Canadian practice. These were: Mayo Replacement School in the village of Mayo, Yukon, by Kobayashi + Zedda Architects of Whitehorse; Red River College, Winnipeg, by Corbett Cibinel Architects of Winnipeg; and Jackson- Triggs Estate Winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects of Toronto.

The selection criteria used by the Canadian team is an evolution in the conceptualization of efficient, low impact buildings. Canadian team leader Alex Zimmerman of the BC Buildings Corporation described it as “less emphasis on pure green performance, relying primarily on technology to improve a building’s operating energy consumption. More emphasis was given to sustainability improvement, relative to benchmark comparisons, and the utilization of a comprehensive integrated green design approach from the initial conception of a project, where architects and all consultants work together as a collaborative team.”

To be considered for selection, projects had to demonstrate that sustainability was a major objective from the outset, and that strategies employed were repeatable. In addition, the question of architectural quality was a determining factor in the project selection, in recognition of its importance in stimulating enthusiasm, acceptance and demand for sustainable buildings.

A critical aspect of the conception and assessment of successful green buildings is the degree to which solutions are context-specific. What’s green in one location will not necessarily be so elsewhere. This has to do not only with available materials and climatic conditions, but also with sources of available energy and a range of issues relating to the specifics of site context. An example of this is demonstrated with the use of waste hydroelectric power employed as the primary heating source in the Mayo school. A unique site circumstance exists where a hydro generation plant just three kilometres from the village, built for the requirements of a now-terminated lead-zinc mining operation, produces excess capacity. Hydro generation has minimal emissions impact compared with other energy sources such as fuel oil, which has to be trucked in over great distances.

Each of the three selected projects demonstrates an integrated approach to sustainable efficient building practice that is highly context-specific, incorporating everything from preservation and re-use of historic buildings to both high- and low-tech, active and passive environmental systems.

An important point of reference for the group assessing the buildings focused around the issue of whether to account differently or equally for embodied energy used in the construction materials for a building versus annual operating energy over the life of the building. Some assessment tools (including the GBTool) put a greater weight on units of embodied energy as a method of encouraging designers to go green, minimizing use of materials with high embodied energy. This bias however results in a skewed reading of the overall environmental impact of a building over its life span. It is a self-evident fact that energy is a scarce resource and the use of that energy contributes to global warming. The long atmospheric dwell time of this warming, in the hundreds of years–well beyond the building life–means there is no actual difference to environmental impact between units of embodied versus annual operating energy.

In his report on the GBC assessment process Alex Zimmerman notes that “We should be measuring impacts or effects strictly additively or cumulatively and not discounting or otherwise spreading out effects incurred in any one year.”

Mayo Replacement School, Mayo, Yukon

The mining village of Mayo, Yukon, with a predominantly First Nations population of 500, is located 400 km north of Whitehorse, halfway between the territory’s capital city and the arctic circle. For years the community’s school had been housed in dank and decaying portables, so the opportunity to replace the temporary structures with a new facility, particularly a green building, was welcomed and actively supported by the community.

In addition to the K-12 school program, the facility accommodates space for a recreation centre, community library, Yukon College and a First Nations education centre. The building occupies a prominent location on axis with the central street running from the Stewart River which forms the southern boundary of the village to the school site at the northern edge of the community.

The building received the maximum available grant under the NRCan Commercial Building Incentive Program (CBIP) and was also a participant in the in C-2000 Program for Advanced Commercial Buildings demonstrating low energy consumption, low water consumption and good indoor environmental quality.

Given the high marks it has received as an exemplary green building through the GBC analysis, the very straightforward nature of the design provides a useful case study for other designers, particularly given the challenges of the sub-arctic climate at latitude 6334 north. The building relies largely on careful and rigorous planning rather than complex technology to achieve its exemplary performance. Its conventional timber frame co
nstruction is well suited to the skills of the local labour market, achieving a comprehensive array of best practice attributes though intelligent deployment of conventional construction techniques.

The location and high latitude provided unique and challenging climatic conditions for the design team. The average winter temperature in Mayo is a frigid -32C while the average summer temperature rises to 22C. Round-the-clock daylight in the summer and extremely low sun angle–as low as 3–in winter alternately make solar gain and glare major issues to contend with. The design exploits a highly articulated section, incorporating extensive use of clerestory windows for natural daylighting throughout the building as well as large south-facing shading devices to mediate glare and reduce solar gain in summer. Minimum required light levels are maintained with photo and occupancy sensors to minimize use of artificial lighting.

Built for a budget of $6.5 million with an area of 3,225 m2, the single-storey building employs a highly efficient building envelope (R-28 walls and R-60 roof) including low embodied energy cellulose instead of fibreglas insulation and high efficiency operable triple glazing with double low-E film. Low VOC materials are used throughout the interior, including natural wood, linoleum and latex paint finishes.

The servicing strategy for the building is planned to allow for future flexibility and zoned use according the various occupants’ requirements. A decentralized mechanical system with multiple zones linked to the various use areas of the building allows for heating and cooling to individual rooms as they are occupied. The mechanical system is housed in a sub-grade service space, providing access for maintenance and replacement of equipment without disturbing the finished spaces at grade level. An underground creek just three metres below grade with a constant water flow at 5C provides free cooling for the building during the long northern summer days. The energy use analysis showed this to be a major saving in the annual operating budget despite the generally cold climate.

Red River College, Princess Street Campus, Winnipeg, Manitoba

The project involves the refurbishment of an entire city block in downtown Winnipeg to provide a satellite campus for the media and information technology programs of Red River College. The site occupies a prominent location adjacent to the historic Exchange district, a short walk from the City Hall complex and the Winnipeg theatre district. Built to house 2,000 students and 200 faculty and staff, the project is intended to act as a catalyst to stimulate redevelopment of the surrounding area. This site alone involves $31.5 million of both new construction, historic building preservation and faade restoration. When completed in 2003 the project will house 20,500 m2 of space in buildings that range from one to five storeys.

The Princess Street Campus is the first C-2000 project in Manitoba, and the largest and most complex C-2000 project yet undertaken in Canada. The project has also received CBIP funding from Natural Resources Canada.

The project includes three distinct building volumes linked by a central atrium, formerly an exterior laneway, which acts a climatic buffer zone to the adjoining spaces. The buildings are being constructed in three phases. Phase One involves the re-use of an existing early 1900s warehouse building with a new annex, accommodating classrooms, staff offices and production areas. Phase Two combines the restoration of a row of historic faades of some of the city’s oldest buildings with new construction behind, housing a learning centre, multipurpose space and seminar rooms. Phase Three involves construction of an entirely new building on the north-west corner of the site incorporating a lecture theatre, classrooms and a fitness centre.

In addition to the benefits of maintaining the historic character of the site through preservation of existing building fabric, the design team has responded to the challenge of incorporating comprehensive sustainable building strategies for both the new and existing buildings. A large amount of material from existing building demolition, including timber trusses, cast iron columns and re-usable lumber were salvaged in addition to the extensive re-use and restoration of millwork and windows from the Princess Street heritage faades.

Careful choices were made in the use of low embodied energy, locally-sourced construction materials and low HCFC content insulation. A high efficiency mechanical system and grey water recycling have been employed, along with water conserving plumbing fixtures, including waterless urinals. Large operable windows incorporating spectrally-selective glazing provide natural ventilation as well as daylighting augmented by artificial lighting activated by CO2 and occupancy sensors.

Green features of the project which operate more from a research and demonstration perspective include a 12.8 kW photo-voltaic array on the four-storey south faade of the Princess Street block and two areas of planted roof. Future changes of use have also been anticipated with adaptable building systems and interior fit-outs allowing for flexibility without major interior reconstruction.

Jackson-Triggs Estate Winery, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Of the three projects selected for the SB ’02 Oslo conference, the Jackson-Triggs Winery in the Niagara region of Southern Ontario enjoys the most benign climatic conditions (see CA October 2001). As a combination production and retail venue, it benefits from the programmatic clarity of the industrial winemaking process overlaid with the aesthetic agenda that comes with promotional requirements of retail branding. Given this promotional agenda, sustainable building practices would not necessarily be the obvious strategy for the building. However, a willing client and committed architect agreed on the benefit that such an approach could have, both on the financial bottom line for the owner and the creation of the progressive brand image communicated through the new building, around which the wine maker’s product could be identified.

The architects began with a clear intention to design an agrarian building reflecting the character of the site from which it emerges. The building is set parallel to the Niagara escarpment and perpendicular to the northeast/southwest direction of the vines. A condensed building footprint both minimizes ground coverage and enables a tall, elongated volume, creating a distinctive architectural figure, visible at a distance in the open agricultural landscape.

The winery is configured as a two-storey building enclosing approximately 4,000 m2 and includes basement level barrel storage cellars. The building is organized around the two primary program components of wine production and the tourist retail sequence which demonstrates the production cycle. This begins with a large service area at the western end of the building, where trucks deliver the grapes to a crushing area. From there juice is pumped up to the large fermentation tanks on the second level, allowing the remainder of the process to operate through gravity flow without the need for pumping.

The major space of the building is occupied by the stainless steel fermentation tanks, between which catwalks are located for the visitor tours. A double height entry area separates the production facilities from the administrative and visitor areas, which include tasting rooms, wine bars, a caf and retail store.

In good weather the entry area is open through use of huge sliding doors, allowing natural ventilation and cooling. The building benefits from thermal mass of exposed concrete coupled with a radiant floor heating system to mediate daily temperature fluctuations. The cellars rely primarily on the traditional method of the stable ground temperature heat sink effect to maintain the constant temperature and humidity so critical to the barrel storage areas.

Natural daylighting is provided throughout the building with wrap-around clerestory glazing beneath a unified over-sa
iling roof which extends to a five metre overhang on the south, east and west faces of the building. Additional high-efficiency operable glazing in the public and administrative areas reduces requirements for artificial lighting and cooling, particularly in the spring and fall. A displacement ventilation system is used for office, board room and lounge areas where high ceilings allow air temperature stratification, energy reductions and improvement in indoor air quality, augmented by heat exchangers for pre-heating of fresh air for the building.

Other features of the project which enhance its green credentials include an on-site storm water collection system which discharges to “soak away” pits, a southwest-facing long faade and five-to-one floor plate ratio, maximizing south-facing passive solar gain during the low sun angle winter months

All the projects selected for the GBC assessment process incorporate an impressive range of components and strategies that qualify them as comprehensively green buildings. Interestingly, however, they do not represent a major breakthrough in building sustainability. There is a positive dimension to this, as it is a clear indicator that while the battle has not been won to convert the design and construction industry, tremendous progress has been made. The fact that we can no longer cite these buildings as exceptionally innovative or ground-breaking, but rather celebrate them as examples of what is becoming responsible normal practice, should be seen as a very positive step forward. As this type of responsible building practice becomes more and more the norm, perhaps the increasingly tired and often inappropriately used labels “green” and “sustainable” can be relegated to history–vestiges of a transitional period, in much the same way that the term “information super highway” already sounds like an anachronism.

John McMinn is an Assistant Professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Waterloo. He is also co-author, with Beth Kapusta, of the recently published book Yolles: A Canadian Engineering Legacy.

What is GBC?

Green Building Challenge is a consortium of over 20 countries that is developing and testing a new method of assessing the environmental performance of buildings across national boundaries. The project has consisted of several stages of development, punctuated by conferences every two years. The assessment framework has been produced in the form of software (GBTool) that allows a full description of the building and its performance, and also allows users to carry out the assessments relative to regional benchmarks.

Who are the GBC 2002 Canadian Team?

The Team is composed of volunteer professionals representing a broad cross-section of architects, engineers and other practitioners in the field from across Canada. Team members are: Alex Zimmerman, B.C. Buildings Corporation (Team Leader), H. Robert Bach, Engineering Interface Limited, Marc Beaudoin, RCMP, Ray Cole, University of British Columbia, Curt Hepting & Chris Jones, Enersys Analytics, Kevin Hydes, Keen Engineering Ltd., Woytek Kujawski, Inpol Consultng, Nils Larsson, iiSBE/Natural Resources Canada, Stephen Pope, Natural Resources Canada, Gord Shymko, G.F. Shymko & Associates Ltd., J*lr*l Skopek, ECD Canada Ltd., Wayne Trusty & Jamie Meil, Athena Institute for Sustainable Materials. In addition, Marco Polo of Canadian Architect was invited to comment on the architectural merit of the submitted projects.

Work of the Team

Some of the objectives of the GBC 2002 Canadian Team:

assess the potential environmental performance of buildings at the completion of the design stage;

encourage the transfer of the knowledge gained to all sectors of the industry; including design, regulation and construction;

promote the “Greening” of the construction industry in Canada;

contribute to and learn from the development of an international evaluation tool in order to benefit efforts to adapt or adopt a tool for the building industry in Canada, and to foster market transformation.

The GBC process is the only national effort to find leading-edge comprehensive environmental building design practice, assess the results objectively and make them available to anyone who wants to learn from them.

Owner: Yukon Territory Government & Department of Education

Architect: Kobayashi + Zedda Architects, Whitehorse

Structural: Fast & Epp Partners, Vancouver

Mechanical: Northern Climate Engineering, Whitehorse

Electrical: Dorward Engineering Services Ltd., Whitehorse

Landscaping: Inukshuk Planning and Development

C-2000 facilitation: G.F. Shymko & Associates, Calgary

Energy engineering and simulation: G.F. Shymko & Associates, Calgary

Assessment team: Stephen Pope, NRCan (team leader), Marc Beaudoin, RCMP; Curt Hepting/Chris Jones, ENERSYS (Simulation Advice)

Embodied energy: Andrew Wisnowski of Jane Thompson Architect for Athena

Sustainable Materials Institute

Photography: Kobayashi + Zedda Architects

Client: Red River College and the Province of Manitoba

Architect team: Doug Corbett, George Cibinel, Ryan Bragg, Don Blakey, Mark Ager, Glen Gross, Martin Kuilman, Hein Hulsbosch, Mike Karakas, Dan Salonga, Gae Burns, Ali Lillo, Patricia Lempert, Bozena Rzeszowska, Jeremiah Bennett, Gail Little

Interior design: Werner Design Associates and Corbett Cibinel Architects

Structural: Crosier Kilgour & Partners Ltd.

Mechanical: MBH Mechanical Consultants Ltd.

Electrical: PC Engineering Ltd.

Landscape: Corbett Cibinel Architects

Project manager: Princess Street Consortium Inc.

Contractor: A. Akman & Son (1991) Ltd.

Other specialist consultants: Energy consultant: Gord Shymko, GF Shymko & Associates Inc.

Environmental consultants: David Rousseau, Archemy Consulting Ltd.; Ken Klassen, Natural Resources Canada, Building Code Consultant: John Frye

Area: 220,800 sq. ft.

Budget: $34,950,000

Completion: phase 1: September 2002; phase 2: September 2003; phase 3: January 2004

Client: Vincor International

Architects: Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects

Structural: Blackwell Engineering

Mechanical: Keen Engineering

Electrical: Carinci Burt Rogers

Landscape: Janet Rosenberg & Associates

Lighting: Suzanne Powadiuk Design

Contractor: Merit Contractors of Niagara

Photography: Design Archive/Robert Burley unless noted

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