Reaching net zero will take a top-to-bottom makeover of how buildings are constructed and operated

Want a glimpse into the future of sustainable construction in Canada? Take a trip to Hamilton, Ont.

That’s where you’ll find Mohawk College’s Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation, a rare example of a net-zero energy institutional building that is currently under construction for a 2018 opening. Boasting a 500-kilowatt solar array, 24 geothermal wells and numerous efficiency features, the project will serve as a living laboratory for students to learn about sustainability, with live data from the building systems easily accessible to support hands-on education.

Of course, net-zero buildings are not exactly new to Canada. Indeed, Edmonton’s own Mosaic Centre and Riverdale NetZero Project have both been lauded as leading examples of net-zero construction. But the Joyce Centre will be the proving ground for twin initiatives aimed at getting the carbon out of construction: the Canada Green Building Council’s (CaGBC’s) Zero Carbon Buildings Framework and EllisDon’s Carbon Impact Initiative.

Alberta adopts new codes to improve energy efficiency in buildings

Regulatory changes are never easy, but setting out minimum energy-efficiency standards for building construction codes was long overdue in Alberta. The provincial government reports that emissions from Alberta’s houses and buildings produced 19 megatonnes, or roughly seven per cent, of the province’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2014. Decreasing building emissions will play a vital part in reducing Alberta’s overall carbon footprint.

Concrete company keeps its eye on the XPRIZE

Sooner or later, any effort to reduce carbon emissions from buildings hits a wall—a concrete wall.

Concrete poses a considerable environmental challenge due largely to the carbon emissions tied to cement, one of its key ingredients. For every tonne of cement produced, about 800 kilograms of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. Estimates have attributed as much as five per cent of total global CO2 emissions to cement production, and it’s not hard to see why. No other construction material can quite compare with concrete for sheer ubiquity.

Lethbridge hospital pioneers LEED for Healthcare rating in Canada

The Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge, Alta., is the first facility in Canada designed and built to achieve silver under the LEED for Healthcare rating system. First released in 2011, this system was part of a move by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to make LEED more specific to different building markets. Industry can now see firsthand how it works in Alberta through the Lethbridge project, completed last year.

Waiward Steel rethinks work-site safety with competency management tool

It’s a northern Alberta oilsands site in 2012. The ironworkers have discovered a beam just lifted into place is not conforming to the specifications. They organize a blind lift. Ed, an apprentice with Waiward Steel, is kneeling, struggling to fit the choker on the beam. The radio operator stops communicating with the crane for a moment to help his colleague.

And then it happens.

Sustainability drives Vivian Manasc's transformation of a downtown Edmonton eyesore

Associated Engineering Plaza, located on a prime piece of downtown real estate at the intersection of 109th Street and Jasper Avenue, has long held the dubious distinction of being one of Edmonton’s uglier buildings. Former newspaper columnist (and current city councillor) Scott McKeen once even blamed the building’s brutalist blandness for stopping traffic and causing his hair to fall out, among other sins. He suggested its uninspired exterior could be attributed to architecture students working only with beige fingerpaint.

WSP Place, on the other hand, should leave traffic in the area flowing smoothly—unless drivers start slowing down to admire the stylish addition to the city’s downtown (no word yet on McKeen’s hairline, though). It may even make locals forget that Associated Engineering Plaza is still buried somewhere inside. This is no new building, but rather a complete redesign of the old structure.

Vivian Manasc agrees that the building was never among the more attractive architectural avatars of downtown Edmonton, even if she is not inclined to express herself in the same colourful terms as McKeen. The co-founder and senior principal of Manasc Isaac Architects was brought in by building owner ProCura to breathe new life into the dated facility, built during the 1970s. However, the project is about far more than aesthetics. WSP Place—a finalist in Alberta Construction Magazine's 2016 Top Projects Awards—boasts a high-performance curtain wall and numerous other features designed to greatly improve its environmental performance in addition to polishing up its appearance.

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