New Toronto tower LEEDS the pack in commitment to sustainable lifestyle

A new office tower is being built in downtown Toronto. It will stand 43-storeys high, have a green roof and floor-to-ceiling windows on every floor.

Besides the lobby, a discrete entrance for bike-riders will lead to a shuttle elevator that will take them to the basement. In this area, ample storage and bike-lockup will be available. After a long ride to work, people may also want to take advantage of showers and changing rooms on site.

In the office, workers will never be too hot or too cold again. With portable diffusers, they’ll be able to personalize the temperature in their workspace.

This is the 1.2-million-square-foot RBC Centre being constructed in downtown Toronto on the southwest corner of Simcoe and Wellington streets, across from Roy Thomson Hall.

Commercial real estate giant, Cadillac Fairview owns the building. The project began in 2005 and will cost an estimated $400 million and will be ready in 2009.

The structure will consist of two towers, the RBC building and a separate tower which will be the site of a Ritz-Carlton hotel and residence.

It will be the first major downtown development in the last 15 years. Dermot Sweeny of Sweeny, Sterling, Finlayson is one of the architects who worked on the design.

“It will be a magnificent place to work,” he said. But this tower won’t just be a great place to work. The building will set the stage for the future of “green” office towers. It will be recognized as the first LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver accredited building in the greater Toronto area .

LEEDS awards points to developers on a voluntary basis. Ratings are based on sustainability, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality and materials and resources.

Sweeny said the cost of building “green” is kept neutral by using readily available products and tools.

Will encourage a sustainable lifestyle

“You could cover a building entirely in solar panels, but that’s extremely expensive and they also use a lot of energy to make them,” he said.

The RBC Centre is geared toward young professionals and will encourage a healthier life style. “We were careful in planning the buildings to encourage alternatives to the car and to public transit as well, we want to encourage bicycles,” Sweeny said.

Sweeny and his colleagues studied the use of bicycles in cities such as Amsterdam, where the bicycle is a huge part of every day life.

The building will also be connected to the downtown PATH system, an underground walkway that connects the downtown core to public transit, shopping and entertainment.

“The building is close to public transit and it’s closer to where people live. You aren’t causing people to take their cars as much as in the suburbs.”

For businesses, one of the most appealing factors in building efficiently, is it doesn’t have to cost more than the old way.

Wayne Barwise, senior vice president of office development at Cadillac Fairview, said a LEED Silver building is designed to generate energy savings in the range of 35 to 50 per cent.

The building will have huge floor plates, about 50,000 square feet. Sweeny said most office buildings in Toronto range between 10,000 square feet and 25,000 square feet.

“They are very long, but thin, so natural light can penetrate. A large floor is often the most efficient.”

The tower will incorporate deep lake water cooling, which uses water from Lake Ontario to cool the building instead of electric chillers.

Barwise said deep lake water cooling uses only 10 per cent of the energy required for chillers.

One of the most important aspects of the tower is the use of fresh air. Air circulation will take place under an 18-inch raised floor.

“Before in an overhead system, you are pushing cool air from above down and it often cools the dirty air that’s rising and pushes it back down on people,” Sweeny said.

Sweeny said the most common complaints in office buildings are workers are either too cold or too hot.

In the RBC building, workers will have access to fresh air and will be able to decide how much they want in their space.
“I’ve gone into older buildings and I’ve seen cardboard hanging from diffusers so people aren’t freezing,” Sweeny said.

The first 10 floors will have windows that open, a feature that hasn’t been done in office towers since the late 60s, when buildings didn’t have air-conditioning.

Sunlight as a natural stimulant

Floor-to-ceiling windows will provide ample natural light. However, if there is too much light and it’s causing glare, an automated system is able to detect the angle of the sun and automatically pull down a blind.

“The world knows through many many studies that [sunlight] is a natural stimulant,” Sweeny said. “We know people are more productive and happier than people in darker climates.”

A green roof on the building made from soil and plant material will provide insulation for the tower and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.

The building will also use white or lighter coloured materials to reduce the amount of heat absorbed.

Sweeny said the increase of asphalt, concrete, people and cars has overheated the city.

“Now when you walk around in cities at two and three in the morning, you find they are a lot warmer than they used to be. If you aren’t cooling the air at night, the next day it gets even warmer.”

Sweeny said his favourite features of the building are the access to natural light and the delivery of air. He said a large part of the RBC project was building a place that was adaptable to people’s needs.

“Think about how productive you are in an office building while you are uncomfortable. How happy are you? I say if you aren’t pushing and thinking, you are not part of the solution.”