Evergreen, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote sustainable cities, is targeting carbon neutrality in the retrofit of its heritage-designated kiln building at Toronto’s Brick Works site.
The project could offset 150 tons of carbon emissions through its planned design, construction process and operation, according to preliminary research. To put that figure into context, such a reduction would be comparable to saving 1,485 trees or taking 51 cars off the road annually, said an Evergreen spokesperson.
The redevelopment, begun this month, is designed to transform the 53,000-square-foot facility into a beacon for leaders confronting the challenges facing urban centres, said Geoff Cape, CEO of Evergreen.
“What we’re hopeful about is that there will be a real learning associated with how you retrofit an old building with a progressive, new, zero-carbon energy system,” said Cape. “We want to be a really clear, shining example of how you do that well.”
The project, among only a handful in the country to pursue carbon neutrality to date, moves forward the benchmark set by Evergreen’s earlier adaptive reuse of the Brick Works site, formerly home to a brick-making factory. Re-opened seven years ago, the site doubles as a community environmental centre and headquarters for the non-profit organization, which operates out of the LEED Platinum-certified Centre for Green Cities.
The kiln building is currently exposed to the elements on one side, limiting its use to six months out of the year. The facility often remains cavernous, cold and dark, outside of occasional events, for which it can be dressed up and warmed up with additional lighting and temporary heaters.
The kiln building was always envisioned as a place for people to congregate and collaborate around the work of building sustainable cities, said Cape, but the programming wasn’t pinned down until recently. Once transformed, the facility will serve as a venue for academic, government and industry leaders to solve pressing urban problems.
The redevelopment will carve out space for a classroom with a capacity of up to 120 people and a break-out room with a capacity of up to 40 people as well as for an exhibition showcasing the evolution of cities. The existing CRH hall can accommodate up to 1,800 people, making it appropriate for large conferences.
Industrial-sized bi-folding doors will fully enclose the kiln building where it now opens out onto gardens.
In cooler weather, a heat pump system will deliver heat captured and stored through the combination of a solar thermal system and a ground source system to low temperature radiant floors. The introduction of heat will allow the facility to stay open for 10 months out of the year.
Since the kiln building meets the definition of a ‘temporary facility,’ it’s free from the rigid bounds of the temperature range mandated for human comfort in the building code, said Janna Levitt, principal at LGA Architectural Partners. She said the project will be an opportunity to show that those bounds can potentially be relaxed, by encouraging changes in occupant behaviour, such as reaching for another layer of clothing before turning up the heat.
In warmer weather, large ceiling fans twirling in reverse rotation will suck hot air out of the space through skylights. Fully operable windows and a passive chilled floor are also expected to help provide relief from peak summer heat to reduce reliance on the mechanical cooling system.
The skylights are one part of the lighting strategy, which will also see feature lights added to the interiors of the kilns — some of the most important heritage features of the building. LGA Architectural Partners is working with heritage design specialists ERA Architects to protect these types of assets.
At present, the kilns are exposed to water damage, which is exacerbated by freeze-thaw cycles, at the flood-prone Brick Works site. The redevelopment will address these concerns by enclosing the facility, introducing heating and raising the floor.
Plans to pour the new floor, which will also level out the uneven surface, required permission from heritage preservation authorities, said Levitt. The new floor will bear the marks of the historic paths that bricks travelled along, which appear on the existing floor of the former factory. In addition, the work will occur in such a way as to allow the existing floor to be re-exposed in the future, if the use of the facility changes, by removing the new floor.
The glass-enclosed classroom and break-out room are other areas that required negotiation with heritage preservation authorities, said Levitt. Since the rooms will float over the kilns, there had to be a discussion about where would be an appropriate place to put the accompanying columns and supports.
Although the heritage preservation mandate adds a layer of complexity to the carbon neutral-targeting project, Levitt said it really comes down to respecting the artifacts. Walking into the space, the architect recognized the kiln building’s inherent qualities — its openness among them — which speaks to one of the big-picture messages she hopes others will take away from the project.
“Many existing buildings may not be perfect, but they’re great material to start a design with,” said Levitt. “The first thought shouldn’t be to demolish them or to tart them up — make them something they’re not — but actually use what’s there.”
“This project is important, not only for its historical significance, but because it has a carbon neutral target,” added Andrew Bowerbank, global director, sustainable building services, EllisDon. “By incorporating social, economic, and environmental principles within this heritage landmark, Evergreen’s leadership is showcasing a new direction for integrated building use and sustainable design.”
As the second project under EllisDon’s Carbon Impact Initiative, which aims to reduce carbon across all stages of development, the kiln building retrofit will be completed using green construction practices.
Construction is scheduled to take place in two phases, with work on the north side of the building running from March 1 to 31 and work on the south side of the building running through to winter 2018.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.