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Sustainability key feature of architecture school

Terrance Galvin takes a practical approach to architectural design. Principle number one? Don’t throw away the old for the new. Catalogue the available materials and repurpose them where possible.
Conceptual supplied.

Terrance Galvin takes a practical approach to architectural design. Principle number one? Don’t throw away the old for the new. Catalogue the available materials and repurpose them where possible.

“These days you call it sustainable,” said Galvin, founding director at the Laurentian Architecture Laurentienne (LAL). “My father would have called it good common sense.”

As Sudbury’s fledgling architecture school enters the second phase of construction, sustainability is at the forefront of its design. After retrofitting the CN Rail telegraph building last fall, two new buildings totalling 55,000 square feet will be constructed alongside it.

Together, the buildings will house classrooms and studio space, a library, a lecture theatre, lounges and office areas, while creating an inner courtyard and public walkway.

Bondfield Construction of Concord, Ont., was awarded the $23.9-million contract in February and work on the site began in April. It’s anticipated 100 local tradespeople will gain employment during the 18-month construction project.

David Warne, an architect with LGA Architectural Partners, the company tasked with designing the building, said sustainability is ingrained in the firm’s ideology.

“The first charge of sustainability is to reuse whatever you can,” Warne said. “We have a phrase in the office we call ‘maximum reuse’ when dealing with old buildings: to use whatever existing infrastructure to find a way to design around what’s there.”

Warne said new architecture doesn’t have to be overly complicated in an attempt match it to the old design. In European centres, he said, architects juxtapose glass and steel with stone and brick to meld the new with the old. It’s the same approach LGA is using with the school.

The north wing will be clad in a high-performance “skin” comprised of three kinds of panels—glass, metal and frosted glass—designed to work with the climate and the building’s orientation.

“If you make a tight, performative building envelope, then a lot of other things follow,” Galvin said. “You may need a slightly less expensive heating and cooling system if you have a very good thermal skin.”

The two-storey west wing, which will house the library, will be constructed of glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT), marking the first large-scale use of CLT in a public building in Ontario. It, too, will have a breathable, ventilated skin that takes advantage of the natural light and climate.

Other sustainable elements include operable windows, ceiling fans and a green roof that will host small demonstration projects like photovoltaic solar panels to heat water, Galvin said.

It’s a drastic change from the buildings of the 1970s, which were clad in mirrored glass on all four sides, suppressing ventilation and creating stifling hot buildings without air conditioning.

“The idea is that good buildings today are so purpose-built that it’s hard to convert them in the future,” Warne said. “So, having good DNA built into the design of the building—the skin and bones of the building—allows for lots of flexibility.”

Warne said every aspect of the building is a teaching tool for the students, making it a laboratory for sustainability. The curriculum also includes courses on climate change and architecture and ecology.

The decision to use CLT dovetails with the province’s April announcement to review Ontario Building Code principles that could allow for the use of wood in constructing buildings up to six storeys high. The code currently only allows for wood-framed buildings up for four storeys.

Using the school as a demonstration structure will ideally lead to the use of more wood in construction and kickstart the North’s forestry industry. Because CLT is comprised of smaller pieces of wood and doesn’t require the harvesting of huge trees, its manufacture could be an optimal value-added forest product.

“Wood is an ideal sustainable building material and yet, somehow, over the past 30 years, we’ve gotten off of wood,” Warne said. “Instead of just shipping out the 2x4s, we’re trying to encourage a local industry that can make these value-added products and actually start building with wood in Ontario.”

Wood construction is also being integrated into the school’s curriculum. This year, students were tasked with constructing wooden ice fishing huts, and next fall they’ll have a structures course that focuses on wood. Students are also heading to Norway and Germany to learn about wood design.

Galvin said an aim of the school is to foster the kind of building culture revered in Scandinavian countries, which are renowned for their use of wood. Lumber mills, which have been in decline in recent years, need to rethink their approach to longevity the way the mining industry did a decade ago.

“The building is a bit of a case study for that,” Galvin said. “The curriculum will try and further that, and then hopefully there will be a dialogue and development of that.”