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Innovation 2010: is Manitoba Hydro the most energy efficient building in North America?
October 13, 2010 | Charles Linn | Architectural Record
In the final session of this year’s Innovation Conference Bruce Kuwabara of Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, and Thomas Auer of Transsloar Klima-Engineering presented Manitoba Hydro (published earlier this year in GreenSource), which is arguably the most energy efficient large building in North America. From a an energy perspective (27kbtu/sf/yr, projected with actual data on track to meet this number) there may be some competitors out there, but they are small in comparison and few in number—some visitors' centers at parks and a handful of offices and schools in the Bay Area—but this is a 21-story office highrise in Winnipeg, Manitoba. This city hase one of the most challenging climates in the world, in that the temperature can vary from -30 F. to 90 F annually. But, a year after it opened the building is operating at about 65 percent less than a comparable base-case building in that city.

With the pair taking turns presenting the project from inception to completion, Kuwabara started his discussion by explaining the way that the new building fits into Winnipeg’s discontinuous street grid. Auer, who trained as a process engineer and wound up working on buildings, opened up with some of the surprising things his team learned when they started analyzing the region's climate, such as the fact that Winnipeg has more sunny days per year than any northern city in the world, which suggested passive solar heating would be possible.

Manitoba Hydro utilizes radiant heating, geothermal wells, atriums for preheating air, double-wall facades, a solar chimney, natural humidification, and green roofs among other things. But often one of the faults of extremely energy efficient buildings is that slashing utility bills so predominates programming and design that issues, such as a facility’s effect on the urban environment, are neglected. Both presenters noted that an extremely large integrated design team looked at the building from many perspectives, from considering the way the facility could drastically reduce the amount of commuting done by company employees to whether it would shade a nearby plaza in winter. The true measure of its accomplishment is in looking at how it performs on many levels, not just energy performance.

I have to agree with one attendee who wrote me: “I was really impressed by Kuwabara's talk—in one hour he summed up perfectly what the design process and the practice of architecture should be about—every student of architecture should have heard his talk. In the first instance design is not about imagery, it's about the process that shapes the imagery.”

Atrium at Manitoba HydroIn the Q&A period an attendee asked, “What was the building’s cost per square foot?” to which Bruce replied, “that is always the first question we’re asked.” Although the cost was over $350 per square foot (in 2009 Canadian dollars) he noted that some of the money is being offset because the company has vacated seven suburban office buildings it leased previously. He also notes that the building has many benefits that cannot be measured on a per-square-foot basis. Some 2000 employees shop and have lunch downtown, a boon for nearby businesses. Absenteeism due to illness is down significantly and the majority of employees now take public transportation to work. “Instead of driving,” he said, “they are reading.”

Charles Linn, Architectural Record: Off the Record, October 12, 2010