Viewpoint (January 01, 2004)

Consumer access to the internet and media can allow us to make more informed and socially-aware purchasing choices. However, when it comes to investing in sustainable architecture, we are left in the dark; as one environmental consultant recently told me, “if only the media opened the lid on energy efficiency in new construction to the same extent as transfatty foods.” Perhaps if we knew as much about the damaging effects of building without green protocols, we as consumers would demand energy-efficient architecture just as we demand healthier foods.

Our current housing market is launching condominium developments geared to the latest group of young, savvy buyers. Presumably, many of these new housing consumers would like to see themselves as socially-aware, concerned and educated on issues of sustainability. However, it is unfortunate that the interests of these new condo owners have not pressured the developers to market significant amounts of new construction that is modest in its requirements for energy and material resources. Seldom is sustainability used as a marketing tool in moving real estate.

Indeed, if the market doesn’t provide energy-efficient housing, it is the condo owner who ultimately pays in the form of higher energy bills and general maintenance, and will continue to pay as long as they own the inefficient property. Thus, as the new buyer enjoys the view from their endless expanse of double-glazed windows, those unobtrusive window frames that are less than optimal are leaking energy. And when the view is so precious, lest we forget to notice the drafts and remember that it takes a lot of senseless energy to pump warm air into such a condo in order to maintain a high-level of ambient comfort.

Needless to say, there are many groups and individuals who are working hard to promote sustainable design, and it pays to listen to their advice. Organizations like the Canada Green Building Council and programs like LEED can help ascertain the process of devising and assessing effective strategies. Specialists in environmental assessments, smart growth and a host of technical advisors can ensure that our profession, never mind our buildings, both operate efficiently. And there is even an emergent group of enlightened developers who realize that they can no longer afford to ignore the environmental quotient in the ways in which they market their buildings.

Developers both respond to and create market conditions. And they can create opportunities for architecture that is sustainable and of merit. Take the proposed 62-storey Concord Adex Signature Tower by Busby + Associates Architects that will crown the development known as City Place in downtown Toronto. The tower will be the tallest building of the development, and expected to be the first LEED-certified residential tower in Canada. Attaining this status will surely create prestige for both the city’s skyline and for the developer. Presenting an image of sustainable design to the marketplace is noteworthy, but what of educating the general public about the wider range of issues relating to sustainable development? What other building types could achieve similar densities in the neighbourhood around the Signature Tower? Are developers truly offering the best use of land while incorporating progressive issues of site sustainability? Ian Chodikoff