Innovation Conference, Part III

THURSDAY, November 4, 2010 | BY

Integration + Inspiration + Intelligence = Innovation

The final presentation of the McGraw Hill Innovation Conference highlighted the new Manitoba Hydro Headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Bruce Kuwabara of KPMB Architects and Thomas Auer of Transsolar Climate Engineers guided the audience through the project’s development and demonstrated the fundamental importance of integration in realizing sustainable innovation.

Thomas Auer raised the issue of how green buildings are architecturally expressed. He likened the current state of popular green building language to a Hummer with solar panels and wind turbine on the roof, and the requisite bike rack attached to the rear. This raises an important question that sustainable designers have been struggling with for some time: how should a green building express its greenness?

Diagram of Manitoba Hydro Headquarters by KPMB Architects and Transsolar


In an era when sustainability both drives and is driven by marketing, the obvious answer would be “as evidently as possible.” But for this para-public project, seemingly less influenced by market forces, the unequivocal response by the architect and engineer was “not unless it makes sense.” Much as the Modernists rejected applied ornament, Kuwabara and Auer cast off green “bling” in favor of intelligent integrated design, where extensive environmental analysis informs proposed design solutions.

Designing in a climate like Winnipeg’s is no small feat. The weather ranges from -35 C in the winter to +35 C in the summer. Humid and mosquito-ridden summers clash with winters that bring harsh cold winds. The one positive aspect is that Winnipeg, Auer noted, is the sunniest northern city, particularly on cold winter days.

Kuwabara explained the organizational context of the project, including the dedication of all parties to engage in an integrated design process. First, the client committed to relocating multiple suburban offices to a centralized urban location in downtown Winnipeg, reflecting a shift of values towards urban revitalization and public transportation. Then, the team established its main goals in a Project Charter.


KPMB Architects and Transsolar’s facade system for Manitoba Hydro Headquarters


Site and program met climate and culture to inform and inspire the process. What emerged is an office building that incorporates intelligent and responsive passive design solutions coupled with select energy technologies. Taking advantage of the sun and wind, the designers oriented the A-shaped building’s narrow floor plates to rely on solar and daylight harvesting. Operable double wall technology allows 100% fresh air, preconditioned by south-facing winter gardens. A solar chimney exhausts or recovers heat, and geothermal wells provide radiant heating and cooling. A water feature in the atrium made from Mylar ribbons, the most unique element, humidifies winter air and dehumidifies moist summer air.

For such an extreme climate, the results are remarkable: a 65% energy reduction in performance compared to the Canadian Energy Code.

Following the lecture, two questions remained unresolved. Why, in a climate with abundant sun and low solar angles, were no Building Integrated Photovoltaics used? And why, at the windiest intersection in the windiest city in Canada, were there no wind turbines? For a power company headquarters, incorporating these technologies would make sense. Auer responded that the team undertook the analysis, but the energy output and payback was insufficient to make it worthwhile.

I gathered from the presentation that there is no prescriptive manner in which a building should express its sustainability. In some instances it may be overt, in others more subtle and perhaps not even visual, such as simply providing high quality air. It is important that to be truly sustainable, the building reveals the thought and analysis invested in responding to its climate, context, and occupants, and that ultimately – it is acting in symbiosis with them.


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