October 2021


In our October issue

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment report brings increased clarity and urgency to what we already know: the climate crisis is accelerating, with devastating effects. We are facing an existential crisis. We must turn this around, or face catastrophe.

If our emissions continue unabated, global warming will exceed 1.5°C in the next decade. And unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gases occur immediately, warming will still exceed 2°C this century. This means radical environmental changes within many of our lifetimes, and definitely in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren.

As a recent book title reviewed in our current issue puts it, Everything Needs to Change. This is true of all aspects of how we live, but especially how we construct and operate buildings. Buildings are responsible for a whopping 40 percent of GHG emissions globally—three quarters coming from their operation, and one quarter from the embodied energy of materials used to make them. To meet the IPCC targets—which give us a slim pathway to avoiding the worst effects of the climate emergency—both of these figures need to come down, and fast. Emissions from the buildings sector must be halved by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050.

Through her research with Toronto District 2030, architect Sheena Sharp explains that some of this shift—particularly on the operations side of buildings—will need to come from regional and national fuel-switching to zero-carbon energy sources. This will be most effective when paired with the deep energy retrofits of buildings. The endeavour will be expensive, but in a realm of cost that can be managed by most building owners. A strong policy direction is urgently needed to determine what fuel we will be switching to, and how it will happen.

More research also needs to happen on low-carbon building materials and systems. The new Future Buildings Laboratory on Concordia University’s Loyola campus is one place where such research is occurring. Its design, led by Smith Vigeant architectes, allows for some 60 percent of the building’s walls and roofs to be fully removed and replaced with energy-efficient and energy-generating wall systems for field testing.

Architects will need to decisively prioritize adaptive reuse over new builds, as in Gow Hastings Architects’ transformation of Aurora’s military shed into a culinary hub.

They’re also ramping up knowledge on how to build and retrofit to net-zero carbon levels. ERA’s Ken Soble Tower, in Hamilton, Ontario, offers one prototype: it’s the largest EnerPHit project in North America, and the first residential high-rise on the continent to obtain this Passive House certificate geared to retrofits. The revamped building nets a 94% reduction in GHG emissions. In her review of the project, Passive House specialist Deborah Byrne explains that this is primarily about detailing and building technique, rather than specialized products: “There is little new here—but achieving Passive House standards entails rock-solid specs and an expectation for a higher quality standard of build.”

Low-carbon innovation will be important for new builds, as well. Some architects are already advocating for the greater use of wood. In creating three mass timber buildings for the Chalk River Laboratories research campus, HDR was able to iterate increasingly efficient structural systems. Key to their work was the project’s integrated project delivery (IPD) team, which brought cross-disciplinary expertise around the table throughout the design and construction process.

Collaborative practices are key to achieving buildings that are environmentally sustainable and also socially sustainable places, valued by their owners and communities. In an excerpt from her new book, architect Vivian Manasc reflects on how the Cree Seven Grandfather teachings can inform the work of architects—moving them from a place of presumed expertise, to one of dialogue and continuous learning.

“There are so many stories of the lessons drawn from working with Indigenous communities, on and off reserve, and these lessons keep showing up in the design of sustainable buildings—lessons of action that speaks louder than words, lessons of integrating many competing priorities into a design,” writes Manasc. “By integrating the needs of the planet, the risk of increasing warming through climate change and the voices of the scientists and Indigenous Elders who share their understanding of our fragile blue planet, we are called to act in a way that is Honest, Respectful and Truthful—and those values show up in the decisions we make through the poetry and the technics of our buildings.”

In this world where everything needs to change, we all have much to learn, and we’ll need to do it together.

-Elsa Lam, editor


Also in the October issue:

AIA Canada Society Journal

Book Review: A Natural Balance—The K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens 
at Acadia University

By Alex Novell and John Leroux (Acadia University, 2021).

Book Review: GHETTO

“In this theoretical development model for Venice, the city’s historical saturation of tourists is leveraged as an economic opportunity to house refugees in need,” writes Gregory Henriquez.

Book Review: Canadian Architecture—Evolving a Cultural Identity

What is Canadian architecture? For author Leslie Jen, exhibiting sensitivity to local contexts, creating socially minded places, responding to urban intensification, designing for health and aging, and meeting ecological challenges all play a role