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Smart Buildings

Sustainability in the New Frontier of Technological Expansion

By Jeff Godfrey

Architecture in the Age of Smart Buildings and Sustainable Development

Architects are at the new frontier of technological expansion, embedding information systems into buildings and cities. That puts them in a position to ensure that future developments and innovation in their buildings are sustainable and set the trajectory for social inclusivity.

The age we live in leads to new challenges as professionals, and our guiding principles must evolve to meet the needs of society and our planet. Architecture may be one of the most vital components of that paradigm shift. Architects have immeasurable impacts on our societies and their evolution. By creating welcoming, safe, functional, and universally accessible spaces, architects largely determine how people use buildings and what impacts buildings have on the environment and society. Many frameworks such as life cycle assessments (LCA) have been developed to measure our success in achieving sustainable built environments, products, and services. In a world that mixes physical structures and virtual information, the concept of life cycle assessments becomes incredibly complex. This article provides a look at this complexity and how to navigate it with regards to architecture and smart buildings and cities.

Understanding Technological Sustainability

As a software developer with over 20 years experience and a master’s degree in Sustainable Development, my research has focused on sustainability in technology. It has led to an intriguing question: is technology inherently unsustainable due to its embedded carbon, energy usage, and disposal stages? An LCA on technological solutions and virtual products like data are similar to physical products like architectural materials except virtual components are challenging to measure due to the decentralization and variability of resource usage. It is straight forward to calculate the impacts of a wooden beam or metal cladding material but with technology it’s different and equally important for the impacts are significant.

Information communication technology (ICT), smart technologies and the internet have serious environmental consequences and are growing rapidly. “Research estimates that by 2025, the IT industry could use 20% of all electricity produced and emit up to 5.5% of the world’s carbon emissions. That’s more than most countries’ total emissions bar China, India and the US.”[1]

Sustainable technology had not yet been defined when I wrote my thesis; so I defined it as “technology that minimizes the environmental footprint of technological usage and promotes products and services that offer environmental and social benefits over traditional alternatives”. This implies that the purpose of the technology is instrumental in determining its sustainability and not just the technology itself.

Building Life Cycle Assessments and Smart Technologies

It is important to understand the concept of LCA when trying to determine the sustainability of a construction project. The American Institute of Architects describes LCA as, “one of the best mechanisms for allowing architects and other building professionals to understand the energy use and other environmental impact associated with all the phases of a building’s life cycle: procurement, construction, operation, and decommissioning.”[2] In an LCA study, each material is assessed based on the various stages which generally include extraction, production, distribution, usage, and disposal. The impacts of all the materials are then combined to get an overall impact for the project. There are multiple frameworks for converting the results into different human impact categories such as green house gas emissions, air quality, toxicity, etc., which provide the information an architect needs to make sustainable decisions.

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Virtual Design and Construction

An Owner’s Perspective

By Robert Malczyk

In the 1990s, 3D modelling was introduced as a design tool that enabled architects to better visualize their projects and perhaps more importantly, to convey their ideas to clients and the public. The software has become so sophisticated that it is sometimes difficult to decide whether an image is a photograph of a completed building, or simply a rendering of one that is proposed. It is not difficult to understand why this photo-realistic capability of modelling software has been so seductive for architects, but it is time to explore the real value it can provide.

It is only recently that 3D modelling has advanced to the point where we can explore the process of construction. The software not only enables design teams to identify and resolve potential conflicts or ‘clashes’ between elements of the building designed by different disciplines but, by adding the fourth dimension of time, enables us to visualize the sequence of construction. This ability to analyze and optimize alternative approaches, has the potential to further improve the efficiency and economy of construction.

While engaging key members of the project team (including the general contractor and major subtrades) early in the design stage comes at added cost, the conventional wisdom is that these costs are more than offset by reduced construction time and fewer changes on site. As a theory, this seems reasonable but, despite the claims of software manufacturers and specialist 3D modellers, it does not typically result in ‘real world’ savings for the client.  My recent experience as a developer has given me insight into why this is so.

Lessons from the ON5 Project

ON5 is an 840m², 4-storey commercial/industrial infill project located on a 7.6m wide infill lot in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. The zero-lot line condition and prescriptive zoning requirements already made this a challenging site to develop; to which was added our objective to achieve Passive House performance.

The team we assembled, including Hemsworth Architecture, Naikoon Contracting and myself as structural engineer, had been working together on 1 Lonsdale Avenue, a small commercial infill building in North Vancouver (see SABMag 72, Fall 2021) so we were able to benefit from the lessons learned on that project.

3D Software and the Design Process

Over my career as a structural engineer, I have used numerous 3D software packages, including ArchiCAD, cadwork, Revit and Rhino. Most timber engineers have settled on cadwork, which is now powerful enough to produce 3D models to shop drawing quality. Yet the question among designers remains, ‘At what stage should we start creating models at this level of detail, and who should take responsibility for their accuracy?’ Standard industry practice is to have the contractor prepare the shop drawings and take on that responsibility.

With ON5, we began to create these models even before we initiated an integrated design process. Working with the architect, we figured out some of the more complicated details, such as the scissor stairs that were required to make the program work. Then, for pricing purposes, Naikoon Contracting created the first Revit model to determine material quantities. In what has become common practice, we continued to use cadwork until we completed the IFC (issued for construction) drawing set, after which everything was discarded.

Robert Malczyk is a Structural Engineer and Principal at Timber Engineering Inc. in Vancouver BC

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Zibi Complexe O

One Planet Living project one step in reclaiming former industrial site

By Figurr Architects Collective

Located in both Ottawa and Gatineau, the Zibi development aims to be transformative physically, environmentally and socially. The only One Planet Living endorsed community in Canada, Zibi occupies formerly contaminated industrial lands, and is transforming them into one of Canada’s most sustainable communities. Incorporating public spaces and parks, as well as commercial, retail, and residential uses, Zibi will be an integrated, carbon neutral mixed-use community, one that’ll help reinvigorate the downtown cores of both Ottawa and Gatineau.

Complexe O, located on the Gatineau side of the Ottawa River, is Zibi’s first mixed-use building. It arose from the desire to create a socially responsible project that would set a precedent for future development.  The project takes its name from the word ‘eau’ (water) as it offers residents a panoramic view of the Ottawa River and the Chaudière Falls. The six-storey Complexe O building includes a range of housing from studios to two-storey mezzanine units, as well as commercial space on the first floor.

The location is significant; as under the ownership of Domtar (whose paper mill closed in 2007) the land had been inaccessible to the public for nearly 200 years. Now cleaned up and revitalized, the riverbank is once again available to the residents, not only of Complexe O, but all of Gatineau.

The architectural program is based on the ten principles of One Planet Living, one of the broadest frameworks for sustainable development, which sets a range of measurable goals. The fundamental principles guiding the construction of Complexe O are the use of carbon-neutral heating and cooling and sustainable water management. The project has achieved LEED Silver certification.

Carbon neutral energy is supplied from the Zibi Community Utility, a district energy system relying on energy recovery from effluents of the nearby Kruger Products Gatineau Plant for heating, and the Ottawa River for cooling. All the apartments in Complexe O are fitted with Energy Star certified appliances; LED lighting has been used throughout the entire building, including first floor commercial units and amenity spaces; and generous glazing reduces the need for artificial light.

The commercial space on the first floor is leased primarily to local and socially-responsible businesses, enabling residents to shop for essentials without having to rely on transportation. n addition, the central location in the heart of Gatineau is served by numerous bus lines from both Gatineau and Ottawa offering hundreds of trips per day.

This connectivity contributes to the Zibi development goal of a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide associated with transportation as measured by the car-to-household ratio. While the rest of the province has a 1.45 car to household ratio, the residents of Complex O have reduced this to 1:1. In addition all parking spaces are designed to accommodate electric charging units.

The project is located right on the Zibi Plaza, in fact forming one wall of the plaza, which offers residents a quiet and relaxing outdoor space that is closed to vehicular traffic but crossed by a bicycle path. Art exhibits are held in the vicinity to support local artists and artisans. Complexe O also provides residents with 15 garden boxes; gardening being an effective way to foster community.

PROJECT CREDITS

  • Architect  Figurr Architects Collective
  • Owner/ Developer  DREAM / Theia Partners
  • General Contractor  Eddy Lands Construction Corp.
  • Landscape Architect  Projet Paysage / CSW Landscape Architects
  • Civil engineer  Quadrivium
  • Electrical Engineer  Drycore 2002 Inc. / WSP Canada Inc.
  • Mechanical Engineer  Alliance Engineering / Goodkey Weedmark & Associate Ltd.
  • Structural Engineer Douglas Consultants Inc.
  • Other consultants  BuildGreen Solutions, Morrison Hershfield
  • Photos  David Boyer

ONE PLANET LIVING

One Planet Living is based on a simple framework which enables everyone – from the general public to professionals – to collaborate on a sustainability strategy drawing on everyone’s insights, skills and experience. It is based on ten guiding principles of sustainability which are used to create holistic solutions.

• Encouraging active, social, meaningful lives to promote good health and wellbeing.

• Creating safe, equitable places to live and work which support local prosperity and international fair trade.

• Nurturing local identity and heritage, empowering communities and promoting a culture of sustainable living.

• Protecting and restoring land for the benefit of people and wildlife.

• Using water efficiently, protecting local water resources and reducing flooding and drought.

• Promoting sustainable humane farming and healthy diets high in local, seasonal organic food and vegetable protein.

• Reducing the need to travel, encouraging walking, cycling and low carbon transport.

• Using materials from sustainable sources and promoting products which help people reduce consumption; promoting reuse and recycling.

• Making buildings and manufacturing energy efficient and supplying all energy with renewable.

FIGURR ARCHITECTS COLLECTIVE HAS OFFICES IN OTTAWA & MONTREAL.

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Montreal Biodome

Interior redesign complements extant architecture with minimal use of materials

Housed in the former Velodrome constructed for the Montréal 1976 Olympic Games, the Biodome opened in 1992 and is a jewel in the crown of a consortium of facilities that collectively account for the most visited museum spaces in Canada.

After winning an international architectural competition in 2014, KANVA, co-founded by Rami Bebawi and Tudor Radulescu, was commissioned for the $25 million project by Space for Life, the body charged with overseeing operations of the Biodome, Planetarium, Insectarium, and Botanical Garden.

“Our mandate was to enhance the immersive experience between visitors and the museum’s distinct ecosystems, as well as to transform the building’s public spaces,” notes Rami Bebawi, a partner of KANVA and the project’s lead architect. “In doing so, we embraced the role that the Biodome plays in sensitizing humans to the intricacies of natural environments, particularly in the current context of climate change and the importance of understanding its effects.”

KANVA studied the complexity of both building and program, a living entity comprised of ecosystems and complex machinery critical to supporting life. They realized that any intervention they proposed must be very delicate, and would require careful coordination and management within a truly collaborative design process. The success of this approach serves as a model for the future to better address the environmental issues in design.

The team began by targeting spaces that could be transformed in ways that would maximize the value of the building’s architectural heritage. The carving of a new core combined with the demolition of the low ceiling at the main entrance opened the space skyward to the extraordinary roof, composed of massive skylight panels that infuse the building with an abundance of natural light.

This massive open space became the circulation core between the ecosystems. To guide visitors, KANVA worked with Montreal-based Sollertia, on the parametric design and construction of a lightweight fabric living skin [1] that could be wrapped around the ecosystems to guide visitors, differentiate spaces and modulate the multi-sensory experience of the exhibits. The fabric walls total 500 metres in length, with the largest section being 18m x 18m.

The complex curvature of this biophilic skin, with its aluminum supporting structure, required sophisticated engineering and minutely precise prefabrication. Using a combination of tension, cantilevers, and triangular beams for suspension, the system is anchored to a primary steel structure. Mechanical junctions accommodate a variety of movements and allow for on-site adjustments.

Text edited by SABMag editior Jim Taggart, FRAIC from material supplied by the project team.

PROJECT CREDITS

  • Design Architect and Project Manager  KANVA
  • Collaborating Architect  NEUF architects
  • Textile Architecture Specialist/Fabricator  Sollertia
  • Electromechanical Engineers  Bouthillette Parizeau Inc.
  • Structural Engineer  NCK Inc.
  • Building Code and Cost Consultant  Groupe GLT+
  • Specification writer  Atelier 6
  • Lighting Design Consultant  LightFactor
  • Collaborating Exhibition Designer  La bande à Paul
  • Collaborating Set Designer  Anick La Bissonnière
  • Collaborating Museologist  Nathalie Matte
  • Wayfinding Specialist  Bélanger Design
  • Land Surveyor  Topo 3D
  • Acoustics Specialist  Soft dB
  • Photos  James Brittain

The complex curvature of the fabric membrane walls, with their aluminum supporting structure, required sophisticated engineering and precise prefabrication. The membrane chosen for the Biodome (Alphalia Silent AW by Sollertia) has acoustic properties which reduce sound reverberation and improve the comfort of the visitors.

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Materials selection elevates buildings

By CaGBC

A healthy building is made of healthy building blocks. Using sustainable materials that comply with building codes today – and those decades in the future – really help a project stand out.

Over the last decade the building sector has been redefined by innovations in building materials and an increased interest for materials transparency. Occupants are concerned about their exposure to the chemical components of the building materials; owners want to understand what materials are present in their building; and designers and architects are no longer content to simply specify a product without understanding the holistic attributes of that product. Where design and budget constraints traditionally determined materials selection, now a growing awareness and interest in sustainability is driving new behaviours.

Increasingly, manufacturers are offering more sustainable, durable, and resilient materials. By pursuing the highest sustainability standards, manufacturers are diversifying their products with greener alternatives to classic building materials. As a result, more project teams are able to earn credits towards certification for rating systems and standards such Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) or CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Standard®.

Today, architects and project teams can access detailed information about building materials and products. This allows them to weigh their options against the building’s sustainability goals and keep LEED Building Product Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits in sight. Information like that included in Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) or Heath Product Declarations (HPDs) provides full disclosure of any potential areas of concern in a product, helping projects limit potential negative impacts on the environment and building occupant health.

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Decarbonizing cement

By Jeff Ranson, Senior Associate, CaGBC

As we move towards 2050 targets for green building, embodied carbon is increasingly important to staying under the emissions budget and limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. What is embodied carbon? It’s the product of the materials and construction methods we choose. This value is often stretched over the life of the building to reflect durability, the idea that a building built to last is likely better than one that will need constant repairs. However, the reality  is that those emissions are all fully released up front. Like net-present value in the financial world, a ton of carbon emissions today is worth more than a ton of carbon emissions tomorrow.

Of all the opportunities to reduce embodied carbon, the most significant is in concrete. Concrete is the most widely used building material, cutting across both buildings and infrastructure. And despite strong and promising market growth of alternative low-carbon materials including wood and biomaterials, concrete will continue to be a critical material for construction.

Potential as a climate solution

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from concrete is a national priority. Natural Resources Canada and the Cement Association of Canada have committed to develop a decarbonization roadmap for the industry. For the designing construction industry, there are a few significant ways to reduce emissions today, and some very promising opportunities emerging.

In the immediate term, there are two opportunities to reduce emissions from concrete. The first is simply to minimize the amount of concrete projects use. This involves looking at how much concrete is required for the project and optimizing its use. This requires designers be conscious of how design choices such as massing impact material requirements. In many cases, designers are evaluating alternative low-carbon materials like mass timber to replace concrete, but nothing is as effective as just using less material.

One area in relation to embodied carbon that has been overlooked is the impact of land use planning. Infrastructure like roads, sewers, and transit require concrete.  There is no realistic substitution. Low-density suburban development oriented around the automobile results in huge amounts of embodied carbon, seldom considered in any municipal carbon strategies. CaGBC has been in discussions with researchers at the University of Toronto to better understand the relative carbon impacts of different development patterns, but at present there isn’t a well-established practice for evaluation. With more research we hope to understand the impact of embodied carbon from infrastructure and the importance what we build and where we build it.

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Design practice: Buildings as a Climate Change Solution

By Chris Magwood 

The focus of green building has long been on reducing impacts… doing “less bad” to the planet and ourselves by shrinking our ecosystem, chemical and climate footprints through conscious design and material selection. But when it comes to our current climate crisis, doing less bad is simply not going to be good enough. The climate science is clear: we collectively need to get to net zero emissions as soon as possible AND remove carbon from the atmosphere in order to meet the targets in the Paris Accord1. The building industry is now tasked with doing “more good” by reducing net emissions to zero and actively contributing to carbon drawdown. 

Fortunately, there is a clear roadmap for the building sector to move from being a leading cause of climate change to becoming a key part of the solution. Unlike many sectors, climate change does not force builders to face an existential crisis because it is possible for buildings to become a climate positive industry.

The starting place on the roadmap is for all designers and builders to understand the nature of the issue. Collectively, we’ve done excellent work to address the operational emissions from buildings and have helped move the bar on better codes and created a proliferation of voluntary systems to achieve near zero emissions from high performing new buildings and renovations.

But operational emissions are only part of the problem. A building that achieves zero emissions during its operation is an important step. The other half of the problem now needs to be addressed: material-related emissions.

By recent estimates, the production of building materials accounts for approximately 21% of all emissions globally. We cannot adequately address climate change through operational improvements alone; we cannot “net zero” our way out of this. The “embodied carbon” side of the equation needs equivalent focus and action. We need to take responsibility for all the emissions we cause through harvesting, manufacturing, transporting and installing building materials because of the sheer scale of these emissions.

Tackling these “material emissions” may be easier than you think. The data and tools available to make carbon-smart materials choices is growing rapidly and the evidence of the emission reductions that can be achieved is encouraging.

In a study I completed in 2019, a small (930 m2) multi-unit residential building was modelled with a range of different materials that are all comparable in terms of code compliance, cost and practicality. Material selection was found to have a remarkably broad range of potential results (See graphic top of page 59).

The model with the worst results was responsible for over 240 kg of emissions per square metre of floor area. There is no way that climate change is going to be adequately addressed if new buildings are adding emissions to the atmosphere at that rate.

Some simple material swapping reduced this carbon footprint by over 60%, getting it down to 90 kgCO2e/m2. This is an excellent example of our ability to do “less bad,” and to do so with minimal effort and no undue cost or scheduling issues.

But we can do better. A model for doing “more good” also emerged from the study. It resulted in no net emissions from its materials, but instead recorded a small amount of net carbon storage. At the end of construction of this building, there would be less CO2 in the atmosphere than before it was built. 

How is it possible for a building to have net carbon storage? To get to the answer, we need to understand a bit about the global carbon cycle. Every year, the earth’s plants draw down billions of tonnes of CO2  from the atmosphere and through photosynthesis absorb carbon and release oxygen. In a natural cycle, the carbon thus stored in plants is released back to the atmosphere when the plants die and decompose or burn. (See graphic next page.)

Builders can interrupt this carbon cycle by taking carbon-rich plant material and locking it up in buildings, preventing its return to the atmosphere for the lifespan of the building. We have been doing this unintentionally for millennia, incorporating wood and other biofibers into buildings. Conventional building practices include a range of widely available and affordable plant-fiber materials, including products like cellulose insulation, wood fiberboard and many kinds of timber products. By combining these carbon-storing materials with other low-emission materials, results like the 11 kg/m2 of net stored CO2  from the MURB study are entirely feasible with no disruption to the design process, supply chain or construction methodologies. 

The use of biogenic materials in buildings can be increased and our carbon positive impact on the climate further improved. There are biogenic material options for every part of a building’s enclosure and finishes. By intentionally choosing appropriate biogenic materials, the amount of net carbon can be amplified so that buildings can actually become a measurable carbon sink on the planet.

The final model in the study (graphic top right) used this approach and was able to offer over 130 kg of net CO2  storage per square metre. None of the materials used in this model are unattainable and all can (and have) met Canadian building code requirements, but many of these are unconventional materials and not currently available through typical supply chains. There is work to be done to make this kind of change, but the result would be a construction industry that actually helps the climate to heal. 

Chris Magwood is  a director at The Endeavour Centre in Peterborough, ON,  which offers two full-time, certificate programs: Sustainable New Construction and Sustainable Renovations and hosts many hands-on workshops annually.

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Certification/Quality Assurance a vital part of The National Building Code in era of uncertainties

The main threats to infrastructure assets are many but include first and foremost damage or destruction caused by extreme weather events. These threats have led to Infrastructure Canada’s Climate-Resilient Buildings and Core Public Infrastructure Initiative. Led by the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) this “ground-breaking work focuses on integrating climate resiliency into building and infrastructure design, guides, certification and codes.” 

The federal government’s new LCA initiative (low-carbon assets through life cycle assessment) guidelines will enable public and private sector portfolio holders to incorporate the quantification of Life Cycle Carbon & Total Cost Of Ownership (TCO) of built assets (real property, public infrastructure) into their procurement processes. For more information: https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/plan/crbcpi-irccipb-eng.html and https://nrc.canada.ca/en/research-development/research-collaboration/programs/low-carbon-assets-through-life-cycle-assessment-initiative

This work will contribute to an infrastructure landscape that can keep Canadian communities safer from extreme weather and deliver the Best Bang for the Buck (lowest total cost of ownership). When it comes to purchasing certified buildings and above- and below-ground infrastructure products, the best value comes from the appropriate durability and resilience over the entire lifecycle. So how to achieve best value for an investment?

 We know that specifying products that meet the right building code standard is a minimum first step. Specifying products that meet a certification program built on superior quality assurance processes, above and beyond the minimum building code standards, will protect your investment, manage risk, and provide safety assurance to your end users, tax payers, and/or service community.   

Why Precast Concrete Certification?

Certification helps ensure that the essential components of a quality assurance system are present and functioning properly, resulting in the highest probability of reducing risk, meeting specifications, and completing a successful project.  Therefore, the primary purpose of a certification program is to help ensure that products are manufactured in accordance with specifications and community expectations. In other words, certification helps ensure “as designed becomes as built” and should be considered by every designer as a means of reducing risk and ensuring quality and safety.

The Canadian Precast Concrete Quality Assurance (CPCQA) Certification Program

The national and provincial building codes require conformance to the CSA standards for precast concrete materials and construction when it comes to structural, architectural and drainage precast concrete products. CPCQA is a nationally recognized and accepted certification program that provides an independent third-party certification of conformance to the CSA standards.

The CPCQA certification program requires precast concrete manufacturers to meet the requirements of the latest editions of CSA Standards for structural, architectural and drainage products and the PCI Quality Control Manuals MNL-116 and 117 (US equivalent), with the more stringent requirements being the governing criteria. Certified plants are audited annually with at least two unannounced audits. Strict compliance with published standards is necessary to maintain certification. Certification confirms a manufacturer’s capability to produce quality products and systems.

CPCQA Multi-Stakeholder Advisory Council

CPCQA’s Quality Assurance Council (QAC) of 23 members, comprising architects, engineers, provincial government officials, ACO’s and six precast concrete producers, embodies a high level of expertise and acts independently to design and vet the certification program. 

Continuous Feedback and Addressing Client Concerns

CPCQA has two key client groups – the owners / agencies / specifiers who specify the program and the precast concrete producers who participate. Both of these groups have formal methods for providing feedback to the Quality Assurance Council on the program. Addressing this feedback is a formal part of the QAC agenda at each of their three annual meetings.

Owners or specifiers concerned about the quality of precast concrete from a CPCQA certified plant can fill in the Quality Concern Reporting Form on the CPCQA website and submit it confidentially to the Managing Director of CPCQA at QACAdministrator@precastcertification.ca. CPCQA is the only certification program in North America that has an official Quality Assurance Reporting Program and Quality Conflict Resolution Mechanism.

At present the Canadian Precast Concrete Quality Assurance (CPCQA) Certification Program certifies over 80% of the precast concrete production in Canada. The CPCQA program is the only program endorsed by the Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute (CPCI) and the Canadian Concrete Pipe and Precast Association (CCPPA).

Helpful Specification Guide

Available for free download at: https://www.precastcertification.ca/en/certification_specification/

Certification Validation and Online Certified Plant Lists

Detailed information about certified plants is actively updated and securely maintained by CPCQA in the certified plant listings, as follows: 

– Architectural and Structural Precast Concrete Products: https://www.precastcertification.ca/en/certified_plants/architectural-structural/

– Concrete Pipe, Manhole Sections and Precast Concrete Drainage Products:  https://www.precastcertification.ca/en/certified_plants/pipe-manhole-drainage/

More information: precastcertification.caqacadministrator@precastcertification.ca 

Brian J Hall, B. B. A., MBA | Managing Director, Canadian Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute, and Vice Chair – Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Foundation.  BrianHall@cpci.ca.

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VIEWPOINT

Making building performance a selling point, and moving on from the glass tower

By Richard Witt, Executive Principal, Quadrangle & Michelle Xuereb, Director of Innovation, Quadrangle

Sustainable building design is not a new concept. With the development and implementation of LEED in the early 1990s, sustainability became mainstream but has struggled to effect real change in the way we think about building performance, requirements or aesthetics. Economics and sustainable building design are at odds – sustainability is an extra cost, weighed against budget and relative value.

The Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat concluded in their study Downtown High-Rise vs. Suburban Low-Rise Building that recently completed buildings significantly underperform in comparison to their counterparts from 50 years ago. The days of the glass skyscraper are coming to an end. Passive systems direct the way forward, as opposed to compensating for inefficiency with active systems.

Buildings are the key contributor and solution to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

According to the latest inventory release (2017) by The City of Toronto, 52% of GHG emissions in Toronto come from buildings, predominantly from burning natural gas to heat indoor spaces and water. Consequently, buildings must also be a climate change solution. The City of Toronto recognizes this in its Zero Emissions Building Framework, which is why the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) has us on a path to net zero buildings by 2030. What about the code? There is a plan to move Toronto to net zero by 2030, but it is not clear, given the current political climate, whether this proposal will be executed. Passive design solutions increase durability and climate change resilience while lowering energy usage, embodied energy from maintenance, and GHG emissions.

Passive solutions allow us to both mitigate and adapt to changing weather.

Based on the Climate Driver Study completed for the City of Toronto, we know that days are getting hotter, there are more of them and there are more of them strung together in heat waves. We are also experiencing larger storms, with heavier amounts of precipitation falling at once. The main issue we will have with our buildings is overheating and flash flooding – both in combination with power outages. This again reinforces the need for passive design solutions.

These power outages generally happen on our hottest and coldest days as a result of people cranking their AC or heating. The higher the total effective R-value of the building, the better they are able to maintain the indoor air temperature in the case of extreme temperatures without power.

The City of Toronto recommends that people be able to function independently for a minimum of 72 hours without power. In a residential building, maintaining indoor temperature is key to allowing people to shelter in place within their homes.

• At a basic level, a building is meant to shelter people from the weather – to keep people warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot. Glass is a very poor insulator, leaving residents feeling physically uncomfortable and paying high energy bills.

• As architects, the best thing you can do is reduce the amount of glass and increase the amount of well-insulated walls. We understand that keeping windows to about 40% of the wall area is the single most effective way to reduce the energy footprint of a building. Real walls with windows may seem old fashioned, but they don’t need to be. Our focus is on creating a thoughtful, well-designed building with an aesthetic that lends itself to real walls and windows.

• Unlike glass, insulation slows down the movement of heat. This allows you to hold onto heat during winter, making people more comfortable and more likely to actually use the spaces at the perimeter of their unit.

Charter Telecom Headquarters

Passive House with hybrid construction achieves highest quality environment for employees

By Graeme Verhulst

Founded 25 years ago, Charter Telecom is a high-tech company that builds, maintains and operates secure, high-performance communications networks and data centre infrastructure for large public and private sector clients around the world. In a sector where employee retention is an ongoing challenge, Charter views its workforce as a family. Many of its staff of over 100 have been with the company for two decades or more.

With this corporate philosophy, the company’s primary objective was to create a new headquarters building that would provide its employees with the best possible work environment. To realize this goal, the company was willing to embrace two non-traditional approaches to building design that are still in their infancy in Canada: Passive House and mass wood construction. Both these approaches were made more challenging by the restricted site, which quickly became the main driver of design. 

On the narrow, 20-metre wide lot, the entire width would have been taken up by a conventional surface parking arrangement with a central drive aisle and two rows of cars, while the ramp to an underground garage would have reduced the number of stalls that could have been accommodated. Instead, the decision was made to minimize the ground floor footprint of the building and to bridge the upper three floors over a drive aisle and single row of surface parking. Zoning required a six metre setback on the west leaving a narrow strip on the east side for shear walls to come all the way to the ground. In a high seismic zone, the resulting lateral forces could not be resolved using light wood frame construction, so a hybrid solution was required.

Cost and schedule constraints, together with potential thermal bridging issues with other materials, led to the choice of wood structure above grade. CLT and glulam were used where the structure was doing hard work, with prefabricated light wood framing where forces were less demanding. Using prefabricated mass wood components required a change in design approach. All consultants had to accelerate their detailed design and resolve potential conflicts using a 3-D model, which was also used to coordinate trades. This was the only way to capitalize on the efficiency and speed of CLT construction, enabling custom milling of each piece in the factory and minimizing modifications on site. 

The resulting structure is unusual. The upper floors are supported on the east side by a row of steel columns, while the west side is supported by the narrow ground floor structure, comprising mechanical and storage rooms, stair and elevator shafts and shipping and receiving areas. The two sides are connected below grade by a series of concrete foundation walls and spanned by glulam beams to support the CLT floor deck, acting as a robust shear diaphragm. Steel columns support the west side, tied together by a steel beam to create a moment frame that takes the “twist” out of the building in a seismic event. The ground floor spaces on the west side are separated by CLT shear walls that rise through the building to the roof.

Graeme Verhulst is a Principal of Waymark Architecture in Victoria, BC.

PROJECT PERFORMANCE

  • Heating Demand: 11 kWh/m²a
  • Cooling and dehumidification Demand: 11 kWh/m²a
  • Primary Energy: 117 kWh/m²a
  • Primary Energy Renewable (PER): 52 kWh/m²a
  • Air leakage: 0.6 ACH50 (Design)

PROJECT CREDITS

  • Owner/Developer: Charter Telecom
  • Architect: Waymark Architecture
  • General Contractor: Road’s End Contracting
  • Landscape Architect: Small & Rossell Landscape Architect
  • Civil Engineer: Westbrook Consulting
  • Mech./Elec. Engineer: Integral Group Consulting
  • Structural Engineer: Blackwell Structural Engineers
  • Energy Modelling: Bernhardt Contracting Ltd.
  • Photos: Leanna Rathkelly

Ventilation is controlled by Mitsubishi Electric Heating & Cooling heat recovery ventilators. Euroline 4700 Series THERMOPLUS™ PHC Tilt & Turn windows have solar control film at locations along the west wall.