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Houses that Can Survive the Apocalypse: 5 Stunning Green Buildings in Canada

Canadians are becoming more attuned than ever before to the dangers of climate change and our environmental stewardship responsibilities. Having unmatched access to open land and fresh water can create the illusion that we live in the cleanest country in the world. However, we are among the highest per-capita resource users of any country in the world.


Breakthroughs in energy technology, recognition for sustainable building, and plummeting green energy costs have the potential to reduce our environmental footprint. Our cold Canadian climate also contributes another reason to advocate for greener construction projects, because they come hand in hand with better savings in energy use.


We've compiled a list of 5 stunning Canadian projects that are leading the industry in the use of sustainable building technologies.




MANITOBA HYDRO HEADQUARTERS

(WINNIPEG, MANITOBA) (C. 2008)

The first LEED Platinum Certified project in the province of Manitoba, the MB Hydro building makes use of novel technologies and geographical advantages. Its cutting edge “solar chimney,” a distinguishing architectural feature of the building, naturally collects and vents sun-heated air out of the building during the summer. This process can be reversed in the winter, when sealing the chimney and reversing the fans enables the solar chimney to collect solar heat and vent it into the building’s lower levels. There, an intended deficiency of parking spaces encourages the use of bicycles and public transport. Finally, large operable windows, uncommon for a high-rise building, take advantage of the heavy gales unique to this geographic region, providing natural cooling. Overall, these technologies decrease the building’s energy use by an impressive 70%.



PURDY’S WHARF

(HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA) (C.1990)

An older project, but still a landmark development, are the iconic Purdy’s Wharf towers in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They make use of their unique geographical advantage to drastically reduce their energy consumption. Situated on large concrete piers over the Halifax harbour, the towers have a minimal land footprint in the crowded historic city. Furthermore, this position allows the buildings to pump seawater, which they use as the primary coolant in the buildings’ air conditioning systems. Using this naturally available resource, the unique system chops the development’s utility consumption in half.



QUEEN’S INTEGRATED LEARNING CENTRE

(KINGSTON, ONTARIO) (C. 2004)

Right here at Queen’s, the building in which the QSDT office is based is a leader in efficient building technologies and metering. The Queen’s Integrated Learning Centre (dubbed the ILC) combines green technology with cutting edge monitoring systems and exposed building elements to educate students on building technologies at work. A large solar array and passive lighting strategies drastically reduces the building’s energy needs, while the construction footprint was minimized by positioning the building between existing campus infrastructure and sharing large external walls. Furthermore, special supplemented concrete used for the structure includes fly ash and blast furnace slag diverted from industrial processes, which cuts down the building’s total pollution by as much as 300,000 kg of carbon dioxide over its life. Read more about this building’s green features at http://livebuilding.queensu.ca/.



VANDUSEN BOTANICAL GARDENS

(VANCOUVER, BC) (C. 2011)

Vancouver's epicenter of green construction includes this gem: a beautiful 55-acre botanical garden boasting an impressive green visitor’s centre. The center is perhaps one of the greenest buildings in Canada, as the country’s first applicant to the Living Building Challenge. Like the QSDT’s Solar Education Center, the garden’s center is supplied entirely by collected rainwater. This water, and the building’s power, are supplied by solar thermal arrays, and all greywater and blackwater is treated onsite. The building hopes to become one of the first net-zero projects in Canada built on this scale.



MEC HEAD OFFICE

(VANCOUVER, BC) (C. 2016)

In a smart move for the company’s optics, MEC, a supplier of outdoor sporting equipment, recently completed their new headquarters in Vancouver. A LEED™ Platinum Certified project, the attractive building includes geothermal heating, well-insulated curtain walls, and many public transport options. A notable feature used in this building is the decision to use prefabricated, modular sections to construct the building. This purpose-built feature not only increased the pace of construction but will make demolition of the building at the end of its life cycle both faster and much easier in terms of waste disposal and repurposing. Recycled timber throughout the building was sustainably sourced, improving the construction related carbon footprint. Finally, the structure is almost exclusively naturally lit, thanks to considerations taken in meshing the building massing with the local geography.


Written by Simon Law, Civil Engineering '21.