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Manitoba Hydro downtown office building - 2010

AECOM and Crosier Kilgour & Partners Ltd.

Victor Hugo said, “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” Now that the pressure for infrastructure sustainability has become irresistible, the futuristic new 22-storey, ‘cold-climate sustainable,’ $238 million Manitoba Hydro Place in downtown Winnipeg is an idea whose time has come.

Things really have changed. While care, experience, technology, and wisdom have always informed building design and construction, another dominant factor has emerged—sustainability. While sustainability was traditionally only paid lip service—if addressed at all—sustainability standards now are proliferating globally. But even with that proliferation, the new Manitoba Hydro headquarters is a watershed structure. Dubbed the ‘first of the next generation of sustainable buildings,’ Manitoba Hydro Place is a game changer.

“Manitoba Hydro’s new head office building in downtown Winnipeg is an energy-efficient structure that embodies and demonstrates our commitment to sustainable development,” explains Tom Akerstream, head office facilities manager for Manitoba Hydro. “The building has won numerous awards and was recently recognized as Best Tall Building Americas.”

The largest office building in Winnipeg, this 64,000–square meter edifice accommodates 1,800 Manitoba Hydro employees in environmentally sound comfort. Integrating time-tested environmental concepts with advanced technologies, Manitoba Hydro Place is designed specifically for its locale, the extreme climate of Winnipeg.

As the coldest city in the world that nonetheless harbours a population of more than 600,000, Winnipeg is known for its extremes. Bringing persistent snow from mid-November to mid-March, Winnipeg winters are cold and dry, while summers are hot and humid. Adding to the building’s sustainable-design challenge, Winnipeg is a windy city, making winters feel even colder. So, Manitoba Hydro Place designers faced considerable challenges. Here is how they answered them.

To achieve a high level of energy efficiency while maintaining user comfort, the designers maximized the use of passive energy systems while minimizing the use of active energy systems. From the south-facing winter gardens to the solar chimney, these passive systems exploit the environment and natural processes to reduce energy usage. Judiciously applied active systems supplement the passive systems as needed.

For example, the building features a one-meter-wide double façade curtain-wall system with a double-glazed outer wall and a single-glazed inner wall. Creating a buffer zone between the interior and the outdoors, the curtain wall insulates the building against both heat and cold. Automated louver shades control glare and heat gain, while radiant slabs function as an internal heat exchange with the geothermal field. Vents in the exterior façade open automatically with actuators whenever the building mechanical ventilation systems are shut down. When this occurs, the building’s internal computer network notifies occupants that the building is in ‘natural ventilation mode’ and that occupants are free to open interior façade windows at their own discretion. And when Winnipeg temperatures dip well below zero, the space between the outer and the inner façades is heated, ensuring that building occupants are never exposed to cold exterior glass surfaces.

Low-intensity, thermo-active concrete ceilings heat and cool the building by circulating heated or cooled water in plastic tubes embedded in the concrete. This also allows the thermal mass of the concrete to stabilize the building temperature; moderating the temperature swings from day to night also helps minimize building energy use.

Another significant building feature is the 115-meter solar chimney. Marking the north elevation and main Portage Avenue entrance, the solar chimney is a key element in the passive ventilation system. Relying on the natural stack effect to draw used air out of the building in the summer months, a solar absorber retains heat for building operations after the sun has set. In winter, exhaust air is drawn to the bottom of the chimney by fans. Heat recovered from this exhaust air is then used to warm the parkade and preheat incoming cold air from the south atria.

In contrast to conventional buildings, occupants of Manitoba Hydro Place can enjoy fresh air regardless of outside temperatures. This is largely the result of three six-story south atria that form the ‘lungs’ of the building. Drawing in outside air, the atria precondition the air to 10 degrees Celsius before it enters workspaces through adjustable vents in the raised floors. In addition, a 24-meter seasonal waterfall feature in each atrium humidifies or dehumidifies the incoming air.

Adding to the building’s ‘firsts,’ Manitoba Hydro Place also boasts the largest closed-loop geothermal system in Manitoba, with possibly the largest exchanger located under a structure. Two hundred and eighty bore holes—each 150 mm in diameter and 125 meters in length—circulate glycol that is cooled in the summer and heated in the winter by the ground source heat exchanger. Water is circulated through the heat exchanger and distributed through the thermal mass of the concrete structure to heat or cool the space as needed. But sustainable design did not just end on the inside of the front door.

Manitoba Hydro estimates that its new structure will save the utility more than $15 million in annual operating costs. While the building exceeded Manitoba Hydro’s 60% energy savings target (the building actually achieves a 64% rate), the building site was also strategically selected because a significant percentage of the city’s bus routes pass by its front doors, including routes to suburban Winnipeg (where 80% of Manitoba Hydro employees live). Back when the offices were located in the Winnipeg suburbs, 95% of employees drove to work alone. Today, more than 50% of the relocated employees commute to Manitoba Hydro Place via transit.

Another singular feature that sets Manitoba Hydro Place apart was its design methodology. The integrated design process (IDP) mandated by Manitoba Hydro is a collaborative method for designing buildings; it emphasizes the development of holistic design. By all accounts, the project team experienced a very profound collaboration.

“Manitoba Hydro Place shows how a true IDP can result in a well-planned, highly sustainable building,” explains John Monroe, AECOM vice president of design for Western Canada. AECOM provided mechanical and electrical engineering services and worked in close partnership with Energy Consultant Trnasolar from Stottgart Germany and with Crosier Kilgour & Partners Ltd., who provided structural engineering services. “The process required not only an exceptional client, there also had to be an exceptional team.”

Critical team players also included the project’s design architects, Toronto-based Kuwabera Payne Mckenna Blumberg. Reinforcing the IDP ethos, partner Bruce Kuwabera said, “The architect is no longer at the top of the pyramid, but one member of the team.” Munroe adds, “A key piece of operating costs is energy, obviously, but clients also understand that facility life-cycle costs are considerable. High-quality, sustainable buildings are more effective and more efficient. They make for happier long-term occupants, and that represents a stable financial base for building owners. To optimize that outcome, you need a truly effective design process—and that is exactly what IDP facilitates.

“By working collaboratively, by partnering, every stakeholder has a voice in the process. That kind of partnership promotes efficiency in every discipline, serving the greater good of the structure, the owner, and the project team itself. IDP isn’t just a good idea; it's an invaluable tool.”

The project team’s success has not gone unnoticed. At their 11th Annual Manitoba Awards of Excellence, the Consulting Engineers of Manitoba (CEM) bestowed on Manitoba Hydro Place the Keystone Award and an Award of Excellence, specifically citing AECOM and Crosier Kilgour & Partners Ltd. for their work on the downtown high-rise. But the CEM was by no means the only fan of the edifice.

Former Manitoba Premier Gary Doer believes that, “Along with being a model for energy efficiency and a source of pride for Manitobans, Manitoba Hydro’s new office building will be the next pillar in the revitalization of Winnipeg’s downtown.”

Tom Akerstream adds, “The building meets the business needs of Manitoba Hydro, in particular providing a quality of space second to none for our employees. And it is also having a positive impact on the sustainable future of Winnipeg’s downtown. The building is a source of pride for Manitoba Hydro employees and all Manitobans, and it has surpassed Manitoba Hydro’s expectations.”

Things have changed. And Manitoba Hydro has changed them with the design and construction of Manitoba Hydro Place. Victor Hugo said, “An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come. With this structure, Manitoba Hydro has set a new standard in sustainability for office towers by fully realizing an idea whose time has come.

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