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The Contribution of Structural thermal Breaks to Overall Energy Performance

By Tracy Dacko

As our energy codes become more and more stringent, thermal breaks are increasingly important to prevent condensation and mould, reduce heat loss through envelope penetrations, lower energy costs and reduce carbon emissions.

Among the most critical locations to address this concern is at projecting balconies, where cantilevered slabs were traditionally a major contributor to the overall thermal bridging through the envelope. The introduction of structural thermal break systems  has prompted a resurgence of interest in balconies, which are once again a prominent feature of many buildings.

A striking recent example of this trend is Sonder Maisonneuve, an upscale extended stay hotel at 1500 Maisonneuve in downtown Montréal. Completed in the fall of 2021, the project team included Le Groupe Architex, Pomerleau Construction, L2C Structural Engineers, and Desjardins Experts Conseils, a mechanical, electrical and civil engineering firm. The building is owned by Prime Properties and operated by Sonder, an international hospitality company.

Performance Goals and Strategies

The Team instituted a suite of sustainability measures in advance of new requirements set by the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) 2015 and ahead of Montréal’s 46-point action plan established in 2016 targeting carbon-neutrality by 2050. 

Changes to the NECB include such measures as monitoring electricity use, lighting power density reduction, air ventilation heat recovery, and continuous insulation of the building envelope. In the case of Sonder Maisonneuve, this included insulating exterior walls to R25, and insulating wraparound balconies on 17 floors using 1600m (5,248 ft) of structural thermal breaks.

Mechanical and electrical efficiencies were achieved in part using condensing hydronic boilers with 96% efficiency for central domestic hot water distribution throughout the building. Each apartment is fitted with energy recovery air exchangers for fresh air requirements. For common areas such as corridors, fresh air comes from a gas-fired high-efficiency modulating air handling unit on the roof.

An underground garage ventilation system controls CO/NOx from car exhaust with in-line fans dedicated to each CO/NOx sensor, saving energy by reducing how often the main exhaust fans and fresh air louvres turn on. HVAC serving the 156 dwelling units is provided by high efficiency variable refrigerant volume heat pumps located on the roof. The heat pumps produce heat with a coefficient of performance for heating of 2.8 at an exterior temperature of -8o C. For cooling they provide a seasonal efficiency rating of 17.

Thwarting thermal bridging at wraparound balconies

The 156 furnished studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments feature floor-to-ceiling double-glazed window walls leading onto continuous balconies that encircle the building.  While visually striking, the 2,788 m2 (30,000 sq. ft.) of balconies and 1,600 linear metres (5,248 ft) of window walls posed a risk of thermal bridging, particularly where the concrete floor slabs penetrate the insulated building envelope. With relative humidity of 40-50% typical for occupant comfort, the design team was concerned not only that thermal bridging would cause heat loss but, given Montreal’s extremely cold winters, that condensation could potentially form within the window wall, or other chilled interior cavities adjacent to the balcony connections, leading to mould growth. 

Tracy Dacko, Marketing Manager, Schöck North America.

Photos: Sonder Masionneuve Hotel. Photo courtesy Pomerleau.



An Industry Strategy for Limiting Carbon Emissions

By Alfredo Carrato

When it comes to limiting the amount of carbon emissions globally responsible for advancing climate change, the construction sector has a substantial role to play. Overall, construction is responsible for more than one-tenth of total carbon emissions around the world, and a large portion of this carbon footprint comes from the manufacturing of building materials such as cement, the second-most consumed material in the world after water.

However, the past decade or so has seen significant advancements in methodologies for reducing carbon emissions in the cement production process. One of the most promising and rapidly growing methodologies is called Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS), representing a suite of technologies designed to prevent the carbon dioxide that manufacturing processes produce from going into the atmosphere.

Several leading organizations, such as the International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have released long-term initiatives that rely on the expansion of CCUS to limit the global temperature rise to just 1.5 degrees Celsius. The IEA has also cited CCUS among the most cost-effective options for the decarbonization of carbon-heavy industries, many of which operate across the construction value chain.

Before outlining the specific CCUS methodologies that are gaining real momentum today, it’s important to clarify exactly how it works and the various ways it promises to lower the carbon impact of cement production.

What is CCUS?

Carbon emissions are an unavoidable byproduct of traditional cement production. This is because a core component of Portland cement – the most widely used cement today – is limestone. When this mineral is heated, the carbon trapped inside the limestone is usually released.

CCUS allows cement manufacturers to capture this carbon byproduct from points of emission within the manufacturing facilities or directly from the air. Such captured emissions can then be safely stored underground in geological formations, injected into concrete to strengthen it, or used to make other valuable products.

Companies leveraging CCUS

Though CCUS has only gained widespread attention fairly recently, the technology has been achieving real results for several decades. In 1996, the first large-scale CCS project was commissioned at the Sleipner offshore gas facility in Norway. At Sleipner and Snøhvit, another leading project in Norway, over 20 million tons of CO2 have been safely stored to date.

Today, more than 30 cement CCUS projects are in different development stages worldwide, the majority of which are based in Europe. In the United States, the U.S. Department of Energy is currently conducting feasibility studies for multiple projects in California, Colorado, Texas, Missouri and Indiana, among others. However, much of the CCUS progress worldwide is taking place at the startup level, often thanks to collaborations with sustainability-focused venture capital firms.

In England, a startup called Carbon Clean has developed proprietary technology that captures carbon emissions from the flue gas that gets released through a cement plant’s smokestack. The technology is currently in use at cement facilities in several countries such as India and more recently Germany, where the goal is to standardize carbon capture and achieve cost-competitive carbon neutrality across so-called hard to abate industries before 2030.

This is just one of the myriad CCUS-related startups that has garnered considerable venture funding as of late, which reflects the increasing prioritization of sustainability in the global construction sector.

Challenges for CCUS

The biggest drawbacks to CCUS are the high upfront capital costs for the equipment to separate the carbon, the high energy costs of keeping the equipment running, and the costs related to transportation and safe storage of the captured CO2. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Energy, to cover these expenses a cement manufacturing organization would need to spend another $22 to $55 for every metric ton of cement produced.

Alfredo Carrato is a trained architect, BIM enthusiast and college professor who scouts for breakthrough decarbonization technologies for the construction industry. As an Investment and Open Innovation Advisor, he oversees investment activities and partnerships at Cemex Ventures, with a focus on tackling the carbon footprint challenge of the construction sector.



A Catalyst for High-Performance Buildings and Industry Transformation

By Passive House Canada CEO, Chris Ballard Passive House Canada is happy to introduce the annual Passive House issue of SABMag which profiles recently completed Passive House-certified projects from across the country.

We are in overlapping climate, housing, and affordability crises and we must turn to the construction industry to help build and retrofit our way out. But would you turn to an industry that has been notoriously slow to digitize, lagging almost every other sector? Whose productivity underperformed the rest of the economy? What if I told you that the tides are turning, and the construction industry is on the brink of a technological revolution that could redefine our approach to sustainable, high-performance buildings?

THE LONG OVERDUE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION – In 2016, McKinsey ranked the construction industry as second last to digitize, only ahead of agriculture. For two decades, global labour-productivity growth in construction averaged a mere one percent a year, compared to 2.8 percent for the world economy and 3.6 percent in manufacturing.

Canada’s construction productivity also lagged significantly. Even more concerning, Canada’s construction industry faces a severe labour shortage, with an 80,000-position vacancy rate in 2022 and an aging workforce that will require 245,100 new workers over the next decade. Without significant innovation, the sector has been stuck in the past, but perhaps we are witnessing that start of a seismic shift.

In 2019, venture capital investment in Construction Technology (ConTech) outpaced non-construction funding by a factor of 15. Parts of the industry are finally embracing multi-service platforms, 3-D printing, modularization, robotics, digital-twin technology, artificial intelligence, and analytics. But is this enough to help solve our overlapping crises?

CUTTING CARBON EMISSIONS WITH BETTER DATA – Climate change is a pressing issue, and the construction industry is a significant contributor to carbon emissions. In 2019, the building sector accounted for 12.5 percent of Canada’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, primarily from burning fossil fuels for heating (18 percent with electricity included). When the impact of construction, materials and waste is included, the number is much larger.

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Lifecycle Assessments (LCAs) are both critical digital tools for an evolving construction industry to evaluate systematically the environmental impact of building materials and processes. An EPD is a standardized document that provides specific environmental data of a product based on predetermined parameters.

EPDs are generally derived from LCAs. An LCA is a comprehensive analysis that evaluates the environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life—from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling.

LCAs and EPDs work in tandem to provide comprehensive and standardized data on the environmental impact of materials and processes. This data enables architects, engineers, and builders to make informed decisions on material selection, design, and construction methods, thereby optimizing for both reduced carbon emissions and resource efficiency.

The standardized nature of EPDs also facilitates the reuse and recycling of building components, contributing to a more circular economy in construction.

Innovations like AI and machine learning could further amplify the effectiveness of EPDs and LCAs, enabling more dynamic, data-driven decision-making in construction.

These technological advancements not only promise to make the industry more efficient but also pave the way for a more sustainable and circular economy in construction.

ADVANCING HIGH-PERFORMANCE PREFABRICATION – Prefabrication is not new, its adoption has been slow in North America, but signs point toward change.

Total revenue in the North American market for prefabrication and modular-construction real estate projects grew by a factor of 2.4 from 2015-2018, rising from $2 to $4.9 billion. Prefabricated buildings encompass a range of construction methods, including modular, panelized, precut, structural insulated panels (SIPs), hybrid systems, and 3D printing. They offer a multi-faceted solution to some of the construction industry’s most pressing challenges. Built off-site, they enable greater efficiency and reduced waste, contributing to significant reductions in both embodied and operational carbon emissions. Prefabrication also fosters a circular economy by enabling waste reduction, component reuse, and design adaptability. Additionally, the mass production approach of prefab buildings leads to cost efficiency, reduced labour costs, and faster build times, enhancing affordability and predictability. 



Deep green retrofit demonstrates a ‘smart’ model for scalable energy and carbon reductions

By Charles Marshall, Gerry Doering,  Bahaa Al Neama, DIALOG

Deep green retrofits represent a critical component of the building industry’s response to climate change.  Mobilization across the public and private sectors is necessary to meet national targets for carbon reduction. This project represents a visionary and scalable model for how private buildings can be retrofitted to save energy, reduce carbon, and increase community wellbeing through healthy building strategies and public realm enhancements.

HSBC Bank Place occupies a prominent corner in downtown Edmonton at 103rd Avenue and 101st Street. The building was originally constructed in 1980. By 2017, although the tower still demonstrated some excellent qualities, including excellent urban connectivity and a structure that was built to last, the property was ready for re-investment. 

During the initial planning and investigation phases, it was determined that the property was a great candidate for a revitalization and deep green retrofit. Integrated workshops and collaboration between owner, developer, contractor and the design team revealed that an ambitious project scope including re-cladding, replacement of major building systems, and the integration of ‘smart’ building controls could save substantial energy and carbon while materially increasing the property’s attractiveness to tenants.

Across Canada and globally, the need to rapidly reduce GHG emissions creates a strong imperative to decarbonize the buildings sector.  This project provides a unique and inspirational model for how this can be accomplished in a commercial context, demonstrating that there is a business case for healthy, low-carbon, and intelligent ‘smart’ buildings.   


The revitalization project included a complete re-cladding of the tower with the installation of a new, thermally broken triple-glazed curtainwall system and associated upgrades to other building envelope sections.  This envelope replacement dramatically improved thermal insulation values, reduced air leakage, increased occupant comfort, and reduced heating and cooling loads.

HVAC systems were completely replaced, with an old inefficient overhead VAV system giving way to a new dedicated outdoor air system connected to local fan coil units with demand-controlled ventilation.  Lighting was replaced with new high-efficiency, all-LED fixtures connected to advanced controls for occupancy and daylight modulation.

Technology also plays an important part in the strategy for repositioning, revitalization, and targeting of deep reductions in energy, GHG, and utility expenditure.  Systems that are typically separated, including HVAC, lighting, access control, building management, intercom, and video, were connected to an integrated backbone and delivered as one single solution. The result is a highly intelligent building with smart systems for security, communications, tenant experience, and energy tracking. Tenants can access amenities such as parking and the wellness centre using only their cell phones.  In 2020, the project was awarded a WiredScore Platinum certification. 

The project scope also included a renewal of the streetscape and landscaping, replacing the aged exterior and minimal public realm with planters, furniture, and space dedicated to socialization and relaxation. The specific context, opportunities, options, and outcomes for the project were evaluated through a lens of community wellbeing, seeking goals and measures that could provide impact outside of the project site area and contribute to the rejuvenation of the downtown.

The result is a property that is completely revitalized and repositioned in the local marketplace. Higher ceilings, more daylight, improved temperature control, and better ventilation air quality contribute to a healthier work environment and position the property to compete with new, modern office towers in downtown Edmonton. 

Project Team

  • Owner  Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo)
  • Asset Manager and Property Manager  Epic Investment Services
  • Development Management  Cushman Wakefield Asset Services
  • Architect, Interior Designer, Landscape Architect, Sustainability Consulting, Building Performance Analysis  DIALOG
  • General Contractor PCL Construction Management Inc.
  • Structural Engineering  RJC Engineers
  • Mechanical & Electrical Engineering  Smith + Andersen
  • Commissioning & Building Envelope  Morrison Hershfield


How construction can build Community Capital

Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals through Integration of Social Procurement in Construction Projects

By David LePage and Tim Coldwell

Every purchase has an economic, environmental, cultural, and social impact.  Social procurement is the intentional effort to leverage social value outcomes from existing purchasing.  With social procurement, price is no longer the only consideration; rather it is weighed against other factors.

When we use social procurement to purchase goods, services, or to choose a construction contractor, we are deliberately balancing the environmental impact, the social value outcomes, the product or service requirements, and the price.

Over the past decade we have witnessed the emergence of social procurement policies and initiatives across numerous corporate and political entities, as they adjust their historic purchasing criteria from lowest price to best value. Leveraging a social value from their existing buying offers an opportunity to solve persistent and complex social and environmental issues, which achieve the UN Sustainability Goals.

The Role of Government

Recognizing their purchasing power, governments have become the prime movers  in the social procurement initiatives. “As the largest public buyer of goods and services, the Government of Canada can use its purchasing power for the greater good. We are using our purchasing power to contribute to socio-economic benefits for Canadians, increase competition in our procurements and foster innovation in Canada.”

The size and breadth of governments’ purchasing power includes billions of dollars of spending every year on construction projects and infrastructure investments. From school building repairs, building a new firehall, a road replacement, or a new bridge, they all require hiring labour and purchasing a myriad of goods and services.

Social Value Market Place Demand & Supply

The purpose of social procurement and community benefit models is to leverage the demand side of the construction industry market to achieve added social value.  The more demand there is for a social value supplier, the more social value is created.

This global shift toward social procurement and community benefits in construction is a clear path to achieving multiple Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs. From ending poverty to impacting climate change, the construction industry holds a set of important keys to influence these outcomes.

Buy Social Canada is a social enterprise that advocates and supports the design and implementation of social procurement policy and programs. In its work across multiple projects Buy Social Canada has identified four key potential social value outcomes that can be achieved when social procurement is integrated into construction projects: jobs, training and apprenticeships, social value supply chain, and community development. 

Social Value Suppliers: Mike’s Story

(Although fictional, this narrative is emblematic of the challenges faced by many people wishing to establish, or

re-establish, a career path in construction.)

Mike, with seven years of experience as a Red Seal Carpenter, was injured on the job. The injury recovery required pain medication. The prescription led to a drug dependency which led to addiction, which led to Mike losing his health, his job, and benefits, and required a tough three-year struggle through recovery. Now Mike faced a new battle, with resume in hand, but a three-year gap in work. Those who doubted his potential to re-enter the labour market kept him unemployed. He faced self-doubt.

A friend recommended he go to check out Embers, since they hire day labour staff for the construction industry. Mike, with work boots, hard hat and tools from the EMBERS library, was on a job site the next day. Once on the job he was able to demonstrate his skills, and commitment to work a full day, every day.  Within three months the General Contractor on the project, seeing Mike’s skills and commitment, offered him a full-time permanent job. 

Mike’s journey is not that uncommon. This result happened because the General Contractor was meeting the requirements of a social procurement agreement on the work site. To meet social value targets to support hiring persons facing barriers to employment the GC had contracted EMBERS to provide day labour.


Habitat For Humanity House

A pilot project for modular and sustainable affordable housing

By Joe Scrocco

The Willowdale Street house in the County of Brant came about from a telephone call which Makers (, a Toronto-based Producer collective, received from Habitat for Humanity asking for help with a campaign launch in the Brant Norfolk region. In response Makers went further by creating Project Upstart, a modular and sustainable affordable housing system in collaboration with Habitat for Humanity, the County of Brant, The School of Architecture at Waterloo and architectural firm PH43, who specialize in Passive House design.

The Upstart house on Willowdale Street is a pilot project for the Habitat Heartland Ontario Brant-Norfolk Chapter; a chance to try a new building process and learn from the experience. It’s also the first time Habitat for Humanity has built to Passive House standards in Canada.

The home sits close to the Grand River and the Brantford Conservation Area on a 1,000-square metre lot. Its location in a residential neighbourhood, within walking distance to schools, parks, and a grocery store, helps a family become part of the community around them.

The design utilizes prefabricated components for much of the construction. This approach lowers the cost of materials and simplifies the building process for Habitat volunteers, who are mostly non-trades people.

The placement of the house on the Brant County lot was carefully considered to maximize the seasonal solar gain, and to use the sun strategically to heat and cool without the need of air conditioning. With an airtight and thermally efficient envelope, along with high-efficiency appliances, heating demand should be reduced by up to 75% for an energy bill of between $11 and $25/month.

Special thank you to:

Many skilled and knowledgeable volunteers and these companies:

  • Better Bin Company for garbage disposal and recycling/repurposing
  • Ark Electric
  • Hunter Plumbing and Excavating
  • East Elgin Concrete
  • Simple Life Homes
  • Jackson Roofing
  • Turkstra Lumber
  • Town & Country
  • Fantech
  • Moduloc Fencing
  • Franke Kindred
  • B.N.C. Crane Service
  • CleanShot
  • Home Depot
  • AMA Drywall
  • Ferrell Builders Supply
  • Fraser Locksmith
  • Grandbridge energy
  • VerBeek kitchens
  • VETTA Windows

Joe Scrocco is Director of Build Services, Habitat for Humanity Heartland and Brant Norfolk Chapter.


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.


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


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.


  • 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 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.



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.


  • 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.