Tear down or transform?
Put that question to Vivian Manasc, senior principal of Manasc Isaac Architects and the Canadian leader in sustainable design will choose transform every time.
“We err on the side of keeping existing buildings alive, opting for renovation over new construction,” Manasc told a recent meeting of the Alberta Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council.
“From an eco-system, climate change and human health perspective, it still works out to be the environmentally better choice.”
And, in the case of the renovated Edmonton headquarters of Servus Credit Union, the transformation from one-time call centre to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certified building also resulted in significant operational savings: a 70.5 per cent reduction in natural gas consumption, 42.5 per cent reduction in power use and a 25 per cent decrease in water usage.
That's exactly the kind of change Manasc advocates as a member of Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the global building sector from a major producer of greenhouse gas emissions to a leader in reducing climate-changing greenhouse gases by 2030.
The targets? A 70 per cent reduction in fossil fuel energy consumption by 2015, 80 per cent by 2020, 90 per cent by 2025 and carbon-neutral status by 2030.
A re-imagined Servus Credit Union building in Edmonton
Built for Oklahoma, not Edmonton
Servus is Alberta's largest credit union. The member-owned organization is deeply committed to corporate social responsibility, namely investing in communities and employees and caring for the environment.
So when Servus bought an existing building to meet its head office and training needs about five years ago, they seized the opportunity to transform the three-storey, 150,000-square-foot structure into an attractive and environmentally sustainable building.
They called on Vivian Manasc, Canada's 2012 Green Building Champion and a long-time proponent of creating sustainable buildings.
Manasc said though the structure was solid, situated on a great piece of land in Edmonton's south side research park and less than a decade old, it had been built as a clone of an Oklahoma call centre.
It leaked heat, lacked natural light and its sealed window units were designed to keep out the hot sun of a southern climate.
The first step in the $8-million transformation? To X-ray the exterior of the building to see how well the skin was performing.
“Consider the exterior like a good parka that doesn't let the wind in and keeps you warm even when the temperatures go below freezing,” Manasc said.
The original building exterior didn't pass the parka performance test.
And the structure also defied the letter-shape test, she said, explaining people-friendly buildings are letter-shaped – such as the letters A, T and H – and allow for air and light flow.
Step two was to re-imagine the workplace – to re-use as much of the existing space as possible, but to open it up to encourage more regular interaction and communication.
“We cut a donut hole in the centre of the building. This brought in sunlight and opened the building,” Manasc said. “We created these fun stairs in the centre of everything.
“An important part of sustainability is also to have a space that is culturally and socially sustainable with places for people to bump into each other and interact.”
As for that exterior, the transformation included both practical – re-insulation and re-cladding – and aesthetic change. The once flat, non-descript exterior now boasts a new front entrance and canopy befitting a corporate head office.
Then there are the windows.
Bright and open interior space at the Servus Credit Union Headquarters in Edmonton
Windows actually open
Staff can open windows for fresh air, a rare choice for generations of office workers accustomed to sealed units.
“We took all of the windows out of the building. They were designed to reduce the heat gain of a southern U.S. climate,” said Manasc. “Here we have northern light.
“We went for a clear glazing that's highly insulated.”
The result of the renovation?
• The exterior building envelope went from an R12 to an R30.
• The windows went from R1 to R8.
• Water use has been reduced by 790,000 litres or 25 per cent a year, the equivalent of eight backyard swimming pools.
• There's been a 33 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions annually or 150.9 tonnes of CO2 – equal to taking 26.2 cars off the road every year.
• The Servus Credit Union Corporate Centre achieved LEED Silver Certification.
• And the 400 plus Servus employees who work in the building were provided a guide to their new corporate centre detailing how the transformation was achieved in an environmentally sustainable manner matching Servus' commitment to corporate social responsibility.
“Our culture is collaborative and values-based,” said Manasc. “We work with our clients using design charrettes with an eye toward quick, clear results, achieving green construction that is on budget and ahead of schedule.”
Manasc Isaac Architects give Servus Credit Union HQ a green makeover
Tear down or transform?