Reimagine: Achieving a Sustainable Building Stock in Edmonton

A few weeks ago I attended Manasc Isaac’s Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit 4 (see my preview). John Woelfling from Dattner Architects in New York was the guest speaker, and he shared a wealth of information on the renewal of the Peter W. Rodino Federal Office Building in Newark, New Jersey.

Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit

John covered all aspects of the renewal project, from cooling & heating plant upgrades to egress improvements and façade upgrades. They were able to achieve a significant increase in the energy efficiency of the building, and it looks much nicer now too! A lot of the information was over my head, but you can download John’s presentation here if you’re interested (PDF, 10 MB).

Peter W. Rodino Federal Office BuildingPeter W. Rodino Federal Office Building

One slide in particular from John’s presentation stuck with me. To help set the context, he showed this graph:

As you can see, the vast majority of new office construction in Manhattan occurred back in the 1970s and 1980s. Why is that significant? Building codes and regulations were far less likely to consider energy efficiency at the time. An office tower built today is far more likely to be energy efficient than one built in 1970. It wasn’t until the Brundtland Report was published in 1987 that the term “sustainable development” was defined.

I have been thinking about that graph ever since, wondering if the situation here in Edmonton was similar, and trying to wrap my head around the problem of having an old and inefficient building stock. I spent some time on the website for The Way We Green, and came across this discussion paper from Klaas Rodenburg of Stantec. Titled Achieving a Sustainable Building Stock, the paper discusses the very thing I have been thinking about. Here’s a key excerpt:

Buildings are directly responsible for more than a third of all energy used and more than 50% of natural resources consumed in Canada. As a significant part of the problem, buildings also present part of the solution.

Although buildings look permanent, they are actually replaced or renewed on a perpetual basis. Municipalities can take advantage of this continual renewal cycle to significantly grow their stock of sustainable buildings by expecting higher standards for new buildings and encouraging existing building owners to engage in green renovations. Building codes are slow to change and focus on life safety, health and accessibility and not environmental performance.

The paper goes on to discuss voluntary rating systems such as LEED, and identifies strategies our city could employ to achieve a more sustainable building stock.

So what does our building stock look like? I turned to SkyscraperPage.com to help find the answer. They’ve got a pretty good database of Edmonton buildings – it currently contains 283 completed buildings. Of those, 183 have a “year built” associated with them. Here’s what you get with a little Excel magic:

Very similar to the Manhattan chart (though the SkyscraperPage data includes both residential and office buildings). Most of Edmonton’s buildings were built prior to the mid 1980s. Here’s what it looks like when you focus just on buildings that have 20 or more floors:

Yikes! All of the buildings on the right side of that graph are residential too: One River Park, The Century, The Jasper Properties, ICON I, ICON II, and Quest.

Obviously we need to ensure that any new buildings we are constructing are energy efficient. As Rodenburg says in his discussion paper, they must “exceed existing codes and standards by a significant measure.” I think that is happening to a certain extent – being LEED certified is something we hear quite a bit about now.

The graphs above suggest that perhaps we should pay more attention to our existing building stock as well. There’s a number of strategies we could use to make our older buildings more efficient, including the increasingly popular idea of reskinning.