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 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.

Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit in Edmonton

Next Tuesday, Manasc Isaac Architects are hosting a luncheon at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald featuring John Woelfling of New York’s Dattner Architects (on ShareEdmonton). This is the latest in a series of events known as the Reimagine Tower Renewal Summit. Here’s the event description:

In this luncheon hosted by Manasc Isaac Architects, Woelfling will present on the renewal of the Peter W. Rodino Federal Office Building in Newark, New Jersey. The P3 modernization project utilizes a true re-skinning strategy, a first for North America. The smart skin increases energy efficiency, provides more effective fresh air ventilation, allows the building to be renovated while still occupied and dramatically transforms the building’s identity.

I was invited to the event and am looking forward to it. I’m not an architect (obviously) but I am interested in ways to transform Edmonton’s urban form, and this seems like a useful addition to the toolkit. Manasc suggests that “a reimagined building” (or a re-skinned building) can result in lower operating costs, reduced energy consumption, and improved day-lighting, among other things.

Some of you might remember Shafraaz Kaba’s talk at TEDxEdmonton last March, where he discussed the reimagining of the old Dell call centre building, now the Servus building. Here’s the before and after:

Servus Credit Union

Shafraaz pointed out that the benefits go deeper than just the exterior of the building. People are more productive when there is lots of natural light, etc.

One of the Pecha Kucha talks I remember most was Myron Belej’s from the very first PKN in Edmonton (slides in PDF here). He talked about Urban Color, and showed a before & after for a variety of Edmonton buildings. I remember being struck by just how much of a difference it can make when the building is not beige. Manasc Isaac’s ideas go beyond just color, of course, but I think the two are related.

Here are some more visuals from Manasc Isaac that demonstrate the re-skinning idea:

Stanley Milner Library
The Stanley Milner library downtown – it always comes up in discussions about redevelopment.

Chancery Hall
Chancery Hall

Associated Engineering
Associated Engineering building, apparently so ugly “it stops traffic in its tracks”. There’s a re-skin on the way for this building already.

If you’re interested in attending the event, you can register here. And if you’re in Calgary, they’re doing the event there too on November 10th.