How sustainable architecture is building our future city
As the fastest growing urban area in North America, Toronto’s green building trend, fueled by Canadian forestry, poses a sky-high solution to climate change
As a wave of sustainable architecture positions new, green buildings across the city of Toronto, the potential for meaningful climate action feels imminent. Traditional building operations together with materials and construction represent nearly 40 per cent of global carbon emissions, making the shift toward eco-conscious building one of indisputable value. As this shift takes place, it’s natural to wonder how our city will change. In what ways will our skyline begin to look different? How will our homes and workplaces improve? What exactly comprises sustainable architecture? With a growing number of green buildings currently underway, the answers are all around us.
Carol Phillips is a partner at Moriyama & Teshima Architects, a Toronto-based firm spearheading two of the city’s most highly anticipated sustainable builds. From her point of view, sustainable architecture is the number one priority in design, and it starts with wood. “In a climate emergency, we have no other path forward but to build with sustainability in mind,” says Phillips. “Timber is a natural and renewable carbon sink, whereas the cement in concrete and the fabrication of steel are carbon-intensive. As we work to reduce the CO2 in our atmosphere, timber—and its fabrication—is currently our most responsible option.”
Working jointly with Vancouver-based Acton Ostry Architects, Moriyama & Teshima Architects have established this cornerstone in the construction of Limberlost Place—Ontario’s first mass-timber institutional building, which broke ground in September 2021. An addition to George Brown College’s Waterfront Campus, the beamless structure will span 9m over 10 storeys, shaped and refined to maximize access to natural light, and will include two solar chimneys to create a sustainable system of natural convection through the building from operable windows. The net-zero carbon emissions project will also source all of its mass wood components nationally as part of the firm’s commitment to supporting responsible Canadian forestry. The building has a strong material presence and a striking profile to be seen from both the city and Lake Ontario, but its design is also intended to catch the eyes of fellow developers. “This scheme is particularly innovative in how much usable space it retains,” says Phillips. “As such, we hope it will unlock more interest from the development community and we’ll see more buildings adopt a timber structure because of this innovation.”
Fourteen kilometres north of Toronto’s waterfront, a similar project is underway. In the vision of Moriyama & Teshima Architects, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) broke ground for their new headquarters and multi-tenant commercial building late last year. The project is not only sustainable from an environmental perspective but also from an economic one. “All design decisions from the impact on climate to the operational costs of the building were factored in holistically,” says Phillips. “This building is keeping with the cost of traditional methods for structure and, in the long term, will not only retain its value but reduce overall operational costs.” Along with generous structural bays that maximize natural daylight, the architecture includes geothermal heating, a rainwater harvesting system for toilet flushing and irrigation, a green roof with rooftop solar PV panels and automated daylight-dimming controls which all further contribute to significant energy savings.
These new structures are reminiscent of the historical “brick and beam” structures sprinkled throughout the city and sought after by fashionable retailers and cutting-edge start-ups. This new realm of down-to-earth yet highly distinguished architecture arrives at the intersection of innovation and sustainability, with the promotion of health and wellness at every level.
The pandemic has made very clear the impact our connection with nature has on both our physical and mental health. “Buildings that are filled with natural materials—with views and windows that allow fresh air to enter while relying less on artificial light for illumination—create environments that benefit our well-being,” says Phillips. “I believe that designing buildings that prioritize these elements has the potential to influence all those who live and work in them.” It’s clear to see where we are headed as a global leader in sustainable architecture. Canada’s cities are growing, with Toronto at the forefront. If our ambitious environmental targets indicate anything, it’s that sustainable architecture is not only a cornerstone in building our growing communities, but also in building a better, more sustainable world.