The Centre for Urban Ecology, Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning

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The Centre for Urban Ecology, Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
The Centre for Urban Ecology is a visionary building owned jointly by the City of Toronto, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and Humber College. It was one of the first buildings in Toronto to receive a Gold LEED certification. It provides environmental education to primary, secondary, college and university students. Located on the West Humber River at the edge of the Humber Ravine in a man-made landscape (the Humber Arboretum in North Etobicoke), the Centre promotes the advancement of environmental technology in service of the preservation of the natural world. The architectural goal of the project was to create an assertive, modern, green building that was a signal of change in values toward sustainable development and energy conservation, using materials and forms that would communicate architectural and engineering ideas for future institutional, commercial and residential designs to a wide range of visitors. Used by all levels of public and post-secondary students, the building had to be clear and memorable. The Centre for Urban Ecology is, in essence, a living laboratory. Working with a joint committee including members of the Board and School of Environmental Science, we reviewed a number of differing approaches to sustainable construction, prior to determining the primary elements of the design. The engineering concepts that are the focus of the building include the use of high performance exterior wall (glass) to create a pavilion within the park with maximum use of natural light, the use of a green roof to mitigate heat island and manage storm water, rainwater harvesting, the use of high efficiency mechanical heating systems and radiant floor heat, the use of a bio-filter system on site to treat all waste water and sewage from the building, the use of passive cooling systems in lieu of air conditioning, and the use of a building automation system that relays information about building performance to the College’s Environmental Studies students for research purposes. The combination of high tech and low tech systems demonstrates the range of techniques in construction that are available in urban environments: ones most likely to be used in institutions, commercial and residential designs in the next decade. It was exceptionally important to the designers that the project be a demonstration of the imperative to create places where landscape and architecture came together. The two storey building is wrapped by an earthwall (landscape) on three sides, the landscape falling away on the west to create a sheltered outdoor classroom throughout the seasons. The main space is a lookout, and the teaching occurs during the day and at night, against the backdrop of the landscape itself, with wildlife including deer, fox and many species of birds seen from the classrooms in all seasons. The seasonal change is an exceptionally important aspect of the program: from the inside of the centre, the teaching extends out visually and then physically into the arboretum with an experience of colour, temperature and sound that makes the indoor and outdoor life of the building intense and constantly changing. Wanting to showcase the site’s natural elements, the interior is spare and well-organized and the materials used in the building’s construction are deliberately neutral, allowing the natural environment outside the building to dominate. The plan of the building is organized according to arrival and program sequence of the teaching program. The students arrive at a point distant from the building, and walk through the landscape with glimpses of the building appearing along the path; the path rises to the front door of the building, and once inside, you look out from a high point on the site to where you have been and to the activities that will be part of the outdoor experience. There is an upper orientation classroom, and a lower working project room that breaks out into the outdoor classroom. The thermal chimney, prominent from the exterior as you approach the building, is a major architectural feature of the interior: discussions regarding the use of passive systems of cooling and air circulation are central to the description of the building itself. The interior is spare and tightly organized: the teaching and the artifacts used in the instruction process are the primary focus of the interior. The landscape, including the planting of the green roof, has been carefully considered to use native species in a domesticated way. The structural walls that retain the earth around the building, and protect the ravine edge, are planted; the courtyard is planted with a grove of river birch, which will grow to shade the west wall of the building. It is a modern landscape that contrasts with the domestic planting and demonstration planting of the arboretum. The project was completed in October 2007 for a cost of Cdn$3.4 Million. Technology and Sustainable features: steel and concrete frame; glass and aluminum clad thermal chimney for air circulation and temperature moderation (building has no air-conditioning); operable windows; radiant floor heating; wooden brise soleil to diminish heat gain; triple glazed, film-treated glass, high efficiency envelope (R30) and high performance windows (R6); minimum PVC products + low VOC finishes / sealants; concrete contains partially recycled content; passive cooling and natural ventilation; heat recovery; high efficiency appliances and electrical efficiencies (lighting and fans); Green roof for storm water retention and diversion to cistern / stream for plant irrigation; grey water (in green house) and use of treated rainwater; high efficiency toilets; maximum use of natural light to reduce electricity, biofilter that allows for onsite water and sewage treatment.


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