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Regenerative Design in Practice

The Vale Living with Lakes Centre

The quest for a sustainable architecture must ultimately embrace the challenge of ecological regeneration. This idea has gained traction internationally through the work of architects such as Sin van der Ryn and Bill Reed, while in Canada the movement has been led by Dr. Ray Cole at the University of British Columbia.

By Jim Taggart

For several years, Busby has worked with Cole and his team to develop a framework and methodology for Regenerative Design. While numerous presentations have been made and papers published, quantifiable metrics remain elusive, as the framework itself must embody the flexibility and dynamism of nature. As Busby observes in his latest book ‘Architecture’s New Edges’: “Instead of zeroing in on individual point-based targets, it must be designed to encompass entire interconnected ecological systems involving water, energy, materials, and land [earth]. As such, it does not lend itself well to becoming a quantifiable, codified model.”

Despite uncertainties about metrics, Busby’s firm Perkins+Will has adopted Regenerative Design principles as part of its philosophy, and tested aspects of the approach on several projects such as the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability [CIRS] and the VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre – both past winners of Canadian Green Building awards.
However, the most powerful example to date is the Vale Living With Lakes Centre for Applied Research in Environmental Restoration and Sustainability [LWL] located in Sudbury, Ontario, the longtime home to Canada’s largest nickel mines. In this challenging physical context, the project sets itself no less a goal than the amelioration of one of the country’s most notoriously damaged industrial landscapes.

The history of mining in Sudbury dates back to the 1880s when blasting and excavation for the Canadian Pacific Railway revealed nickel-copper ore deposits in the rock formations on the edge of the Sudbury Basin. For almost a century, mining and logging operations wreaked environmental havoc in the area through clear-cutting and chemical poisoning from acid rain. By the 1960s these effects had decimated local flora and fauna and destroyed life in hundreds of lakes in the region. Such was the devastation, that NASA famously used Sudbury’s barren landscape for testing lunar vehicles for its Apollo program.

In the 1970s, cleaner smelting technology and taller smokestacks substantially diluted emissions and dispersed them over a much greater area, making environmental restoration and regeneration a viable proposition for the first time. Broad-based support for the community’s re-greening program was such that, at the Earth Summit in 1992, the City was honoured with one of only 12 local government awards presented by the United Nations.
Even so, nearly 30,000 hectares of land remain to be rehabilitated, and the naturally pink-grey granite found throughout the region is still stained black from decades of smoke and acid rain.

The Challenge
Part of Laurentian University, the LWL facility was commissioned to house a research and monitoring institute dedicated to the protection and management of northern aquatic ecosystems. The site is located on the shore of Ramsey Lake, Sudbury’s drinking water reservoir and one of 330 lakes within the city limits. An immediate aspiration for the project was that the building should be understood and experienced as a manifestation of its purpose.

As Busby relates it, Dr John Gunn, an ecologist with 30 years experience in the Sudbury area and client for the project, was particularly concerned about two issues: “abundant heavy metals from the polluted air that had acidified rainfall over the years, moving heavy metals directly into local lakes with every storm event; and the continued imbalance of the lakes’ acidity.” Thus the design of the building sets out to address both these concerns.

Project Credits

  • Client Laurentian University
  • Architects Perkins + Will Architects in Association with J.L. Richards & Associates Limited
  • Structural Engineer Fast + Epp / J.L. Richards & Associates Limited
  • Mechanical Engineer Stantec Engineering / J.L. Richards & Associates Limited
  • Electrical Engineer K.L. Engineering
  • General Contractor Tribury Construction Inc.
  • Civil Engineer J.L. Richards & Associates Limited
  • Cost Consultant Hanscomb
  • Landscape Consultant PWL Partnership
  • Photos Tom Arban

Windows supplied by Alumicor , roofing membrane by Tremco , resilient flooring by Forbo Marmoleum, carpet tile by Interface , permeable pavers by Unilock .

Project performance

Energy intensity [building and process energy] 613 MJ/m2/year [Reduction relative to reference building 65%]
Potable water consumption from municipal sources 2,416 L/occupant/year [Reduction relative to reference building 63%]
Regionally-sourced materials [800km radius] by value 66%
Reclaimed and recycled materials by value 11%
Construction materials diverted from landfill 73%

Jim Taggart, FRAIC is the editor of SABMag.