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May 9, 2002 Downtown buildings will feature energy conservation



Aerial view of Le Quartier Concordia

(Click to enlarge)
An aerial view of Le Quartier Concordia looking

Courtesy of Kuwabara Payne Mckenna Blumberg Architects
Fichten Soiferman Architectes

by Robert Scalia

Marianne McKenna and Mark Mitchell want their buildings to breathe, to communicate with their physical surroundings and mirror the character of their occupants.

The architect-engineer duo explained their vision to a packed room of architects at McGill University last Tuesday and emphasized the importance of aesthetics and green design in revitalizing Concordia’s downtown campus. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for May 13 on the site.

“These buildings will actually change the way Concordia is viewed in the city,” said McKenna, referring to the Integrated Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Complex and the John Molson School of Business. Both buildings are slated for construction on or near the corner of Guy and Ste. Catherine Sts.

Le Quartier Concordia, as McKenna dubbed it, will “capture the spirit of Montreal” and finally unify a campus that is presently nothing but a couple of streets.

With sleek designs, three-floor atriums and glazed indoor walkways that run parallel to the streets, each building will have its unique character: an executive feel for business, and a more robust, loft feel for visual arts. But looks aren’t everything. “When we’re trying to implement green design,” Mitchell explained, “it’s sort of like a sports analogy used when going out to beat the other team: How can I beat these guys? What are the soft areas that we can attack?”

Direct Métro connections, operable windows for natural ventilation and a southwest orientation for maximizing daylight exposure as panels drive sunlight deep within the building — these are all weapons of choice. Combined, these features will satisfy Concordia’s primary goal: cutting energy consumption. According to Mitchell’s latest projections, these buildings should consume roughly 70 per cent the energy required by today’s standard Canadian building.

The goal is to “touch the earth lightly,” Mitchell said. Long gone are the days of huge smokestacks, generators and hermetically sealed buildings. Green buildings will become the standard in North America, just like they are in Europe now. “If you could construct the building you have for the same cost and have it operate at 50 per cent the energy cost in the first year, who wouldn’t buy that?”

Still, each client must find his or her own “green zone,” a compromise between environmental awareness and budget restraints. In order for these projects to be successful, the clients have to be supportive from the beginning and follow through.

For Mitchell, it’s as much a moral decision as it is a financial one. “Most of the global warming is due to human activities,” he said, pointing out the last decade has been the warmest in the past 1,000 years. “If greenhouse gas emissions were cut by 50 per cent over the next 30 years (roughly seven times that required under the Kyoto Protocol) this century’s temperature rise would still be five times greater than that of the last.

“We have to start somewhere, not as scientists but really as citizens. We actually have some control over what is happening in our environment.”

McKenna and Mitchell take the challenge to heart. Both urged Concordia’s administration to lower their original 75-per-cent target consumption goal to around 60 per cent.

However, McKenna admitted “the time hadn’t come” for more radical green features, such as raised floors and double walls. She pointed out university building planners were initially against operable windows, fearing they would be left open overnight and leave offices exposed to the elements. When the departments were consulted, Fine Arts vouched for them, Engineering and Computer Science did not.

McKenna knows sustainable design is a delicate balancing act. “You can push and push and push, but in the end you can only do what you can get done with the support of your client, with the budget you have and the support of your integrated team.”

McKenna and Mitchell’s partner in the project is Jacob Fichten. Their presentation was part of a lecture series organized by McGill’s School of Architecture. The group has been invited to give a presentation to a group promoting environmentally friendly design in Montreal, and their design has been chosen as Canada's entry in a major environmental design competition in Oslo, called the Green Building Challenge.