Environment 3 (EV3) – University of Waterloo

September 9th, 2011

The low-rise building clad in green-accented curtain wall on the southwest portion of the University of Waterloo’s campus ring road, known as Environment 3 (EV3), is one of Canada’s most innovative and green buildings to date. In fact, it is set to attain LEED Platinum certification – one of a handful of public buildings in Canada to do so.

EV3 is also receiving attention for its unique structure. It is essentially a large four-storey addition, separated into north and south components by a narrow four-storey atrium space. Four storeys of student program space are located to the north, and to the south the existing two-storey EV2 building is topped with two storeys of space for the School of Planning and the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development.

LEED elements are apparent throughout. Landscape features include an extensive green roof, constructed wetland, two courtyard gardens and cisterns for rainwater collection. Fair-trade coffee and locally grown alternatives to standard campus fare will be served at an eco-cafe, which has a custom floral graphic printed on the exterior glazing.

The cafe opens to the four-storey, sky-lit atrium. A two-storey living wall is located along its south side adjacent to the exposed red brick of the existing EV2 building. A four-storey staircase with glass balustrades and a bamboo handrail connects all four floors, spanning the first and second storeys in a straight run and then boldly cantilevering out over the atrium space in a switchback stair that connects the top floors.

The building contains glazing, which provides light and views from perimeter spaces, and operable windows.

Some of EV3’s additional LEED elements include R30 wall and R40 roof insulation, high-efficiency lighting and lighting controls, high-efficiency washroom fixtures, low-impact furnishings, audiovisual systems/equipment for teleconferencing, mobile and regular video-conferencing and smartboards, and green energy systems. Millwork is made from bamboo, a renewable material. The project team moved from its original goal of LEED Silver certification to Platinum.

Building on top of an existing building meant there were issues with space, both in terms of situating the new building and the process of constructing it. It was important to respect the existing environment, not only in terms of LEED standards, but also to maintain the function of the university itself. “Space was a concern on the campus,” says Dan Parent, the University of Waterloo’s staff architect. Development stayed within the ring road, which was closed for several weeks to accommodate construction laydown space.

The south side addition is built over the top of the existing EV2 roof, but does not structurally rest on the existing building. Instead, two columns per side, rising 65 feet, support an elaborate truss system, which required three cranes to work cooperatively to hoist the trusses into place. Design and assembly of the trusses was a project in itself, says Nigel Thompson, project manager for the Walter Fedy Partnership, the structural, mechanical and electrical consultant for EV3.

“Suspending two floors above the existing structure was accomplished by designing and fabricating two large trusses that are 10 metres high and span 47 metres. These trusses support five other intermediate trusses that are five metres high and span 30 metres. The third floor is then hung from the intermediate trusses,” he says. “Additional challenges included designing foundations to support the high reaction loads, framing around the existing mechanical space on the EV2 roof, and reinforcing the existing building roof to support the snow loads, and providing a column-free lecture space.”

The university, and the Faculty of Environment in particular, has experienced significant growth recently. The EV2 building was built in 1981, and the number of graduate and undergraduate students doubled over the past several years. “In terms of infrastructure, we weren’t keeping pace. We didn’t have a specific plan but when funding came along, it was a great opportunity for us to speed up the process,” says Mark Seasons, interim dean with the university’s Faculty of Environment.

The school was awarded $14 million through the government’s Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP) program in 2009. Since substantial completion of the project was required by March 31, 2011, it needed to happen quickly.

First, Dan Parent was brought on board and, in conjunction with stake-holder groups, a concept and plan was developed. Akitt, Swanson + Pearce Architects Inc. (AS+P) and Cooper Construction Ltd. were awarded the design-build contract in fall 2009. Construction got underway in April 2010. Both companies’ expertise with regards to the LEED program would prove to be invaluable.

“With a very tight schedule and budget, the building form needed to be kept as straightforward as building on top of another building could be, and materials and systems selection needed to facilitate construction and cost efficiency. The look of the building needed to be professional and playful, provide access to natural light and views, express the original EV2 and where the faculty came from, and create an identity that says ‘Faculty of Environment,’” explains Kevin McCluskey, principal in charge of the project for AS+P.

Collaboration with stakeholders was key. According to Seasons, the Faculty of Environment has a tradition of collaboration, so stakeholders expected to be heard. That part of the process spanned about a year as the project evolved. Design of the landscaped areas, including the front entrance area, south green space, third-floor green roof and two fourth-floor courtyards was opened up to students from the Faculty of Environment as a summer course and open competition. Some of the winning concepts from the student designs formed the basis for the conceptual development of these spaces that were then built on by Brodie & Associates Landscape Architect Inc.

While the building’s form is a relatively straightforward rectangular mass, the architect introduced a lot of play in the colour, pattern and material of the skin, comprised of curtain wall, metal siding and aluminum composite panels. “Most striking is the introduction of a vibrant green colour in the aluminum panels and spandrel glass to give the building a strong identity as the ‘environment’ building. The remaining material palette is neutral to allow the green to really ‘pop’ and bring a bit of playfulness,” says McCluskey.

“It’s a really sharp building, and the colours are dynamic,” says Seasons. “It takes us into a new era. We’ve had older buildings that are solid and well maintained, but this has a lot of innovative features. People are thrilled with it.”

Reproduced with permission from Award Magazine. Photos by Harold Clark Photography.

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