The OAA Wraps Up Headquarters Building Renewal

Designed to achieve zero net carbon, the OAA's headquarters meets the 2030 Challenge more than a decade early.

OAA HQ east facade; Photo courtesy Ontario Association of Architects

The OAA’s Don Mills Headquarters was designed by Toronto architect Ruth Cawker, winner of a 1989 province-wide design competition. It had been built to the R2000 standard, which was better than the norm at the time.

This was validated by its initial airtightness test, and with a roof structure that anticipated the addition of solar panels at a later date.

Having steadily grown over the last 25 years, the building began requiring extensive maintenance. Its energy use was significantly above average for a new low-rise office of its kind due to its outdated mechanical system, which reheated cooled air—even in the summer.

After the Council carefully reviewed the options of revitalizing the current building or looking for a new one, it decided the costs and environmental impacts of moving would outweigh any advantages.

More importantly, by replacing outdated systems with current energy-efficient systems, the OAA could achieve zero operating carbon use.

Given the climate crisis, the OAA takes the position that buildings need to last for longer than a few decades by adapting and improving with time.

The OAA Council approved the carbon neutral operating approach and directed a consultant team, lead by architect David Fujiwara, to proceed with design development and contract documents, based on achieving zero carbon performance.

Major work on the OAA’s Renew+Refresh renovation project is now completed, with the installation of additional photovoltaic panels from Morgan Solar soon to begin over the second-floor terrace.

Cafe space; Photo courtesy Ontario Association of Architects

Those new PVs join existing solar panels and other active and passive technologies intended to offset the building’s energy use with energy creation, ultimately offering “free” electricity and hot water.

High-efficiency occupancy lighting, displacement ventilation, geothermal heating, enhanced insulation, flexible work spaces and View proprietary dynamic glass that changes its tint with the sun, have been chosen for optimizing the building’s performance and improving the interior environment.

In this next phase, the building operations will continue to be monitored and fine-tuned to ensure the OAA HQ remains on target for maintaining zero net carbon.

“Once we decided to retrofit the OAA HQ, both operating and embedded energy guided our decisions to ensure the building’s life cycle performance would be environmentally sustainable,” said OAA President Kathleen Kurtin. “The OAA Building Committee worked closely with the other members of the project team to ensure our objectives were met.”

As a general policy, the OAA has committed to the 2030 Challenge, which aims to take the building sector to zero carbon emissions by setting performance targets for all new buildings and major renovations.

Next year, that target will be 70 per cent of the baseline levels achieved in 2003; by 2030, the target will be 100 per cent reduction.

Rather than meet the 70 per cent rate, the OAA decided to go for the full 100 per cent a decade early to provide a strong example that architects could use in their own work and outreach with clients.

Open office space and dynamic glass; Photo courtesy Ontario Association of Architects

“Retrofitting existing building stock is critical to meeting the global GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction goals,” said Sheena Sharp, architect and chair of the OAA Building Committee. “With new designs and technology, energy-efficient buildings are easy to achieve, but most of the buildings in our province are older structures that need to be addressed if we’re going to meet the targets.”

However, it is not solely about technology. With the new interior layout, the OAA has doubled the capacity of the building, effectively getting twice as much out of the carbon it was consuming.

Through the renovation, the capacity for employees and the number of meeting rooms were doubled. Additionally, state-of-the-art technology was brought in to better host web-based meetings and foster distance collaboration, and layout flexibility was included so that the spaces could expand or contract to host events.

An official public opening is  being planned for May to coincide with the 2020 OAA Conference as well as Doors Open.

The event will not only welcome the local community and broader public to see the new spaces, but also serve to educate the public on how architectural thinking and clever design can lower carbon emissions, which is crucial during our current climate crisis.

Meeting space and office space; Photo courtesy Ontario Association of Architects