With indoor air quality so bad that staff had to be sent home on occasions, it is fair to say that the old Cambridge City Hall in Ontario was hardly a shining example of green building and sustainable construction.
The new building marks a huge step up, with the city announcing last week that it has been awarded gold certification by the Green Building Council of Canada (CaGBC).
Completed in 2008 at a cost of $30 million, the building’s most striking feature is its ‘living wall’, an eight-metre, four-storey wall of vines and plants that acts as a natural purifier by cleaning and recirculating air throughout the building.
City Councillor Ben Tucci said the wall represents an answer to a major workplace health and safety issue, adding that the previous environment was terrible in terms of maximising productivity.
While the wall brings about a vast improvement in air quality, the building’s sustainable features do not stop there.
A green roof topped with plants, grass and shrubs rather than asphalt or other granular substances has helped to reduce heating and cooling requirements. A 10,000-litre tank collects rainwater that falls on the building, with that water subsequently used for toilet flushing. Lighting, too, has been upgraded, with energy efficient lights used in all offices and motion sensors turning the lights off automatically when the building is not in use.
Indeed, the city estimates that the building’s energy efficient characteristics save taxpayers over $160,000 per year.
Much thought went into selecting the materials for the building. Glass panels have been specially designed to allow light but not heat to enter the building. Carpets, ceiling tiles, paint, and other elements were made from organic materials. All materials were procured locally and recycled materials were used wherever possible. In all, 75 per cent of the materials from the former building went into recycling.
In terms of promoting responsible commuting, carpool-only parking lot spaces and bicycle storage and change rooms were installed to encourage staff to either share rides or arrive on two wheels.
The project’s principal architect was Diamond Schmitt Architects and the general contractor was Vanbots, which was acquired by Carillion in 2008 and is now known as Carillion Canada. The LEED consultant was Enermodal Engineering Ltd.