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 Concordias 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 arent everything. When were trying to
implement green design, Mitchell explained, its 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 Concordias primary
goal: cutting energy consumption. According to Mitchells latest
projections, these buildings should consume roughly 70 per cent the energy
required by todays 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 wouldnt 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, its 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 centurys 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 Concordias
administration to lower their original 75-per-cent target consumption
goal to around 60 per cent.
However, McKenna admitted the time hadnt 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 Mitchells partner in the project is Jacob Fichten. Their
presentation was part of a lecture series organized by McGills 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.