Archive for the ‘Architecture and Design’ category

How Integrated Project Delivery reduces costs, waste and time for construction jobs

November 8th, 2016
The Mosaic Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Net Zero building

The Mosaic Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Net Zero building , (via Flickr


At the Green Building Festival, Jen Hancock gave a presentation on how her company, Chandos, delivered a net zero building commercial project to the client, four months early, under budget. To deliver a building under budget is rarely heard of, but throw in net zero while delivering a completed project four months early, and now you’re into territory that is pretty much uncharted in the construction industry. I contacted Jen after the presentation because I wanted to find out more about how they accomplished this feat. Chandos isn’t like other construction companies and this is immediately evident when you see that Jen’s title is the Director of Innovative Construction. How many firms have that title on their roster?

I asked her if she’d been busy presenting this project to other conferences and she said, “I’ve been really busy presenting this concept — the way we built the Mosaic Centre has overshadowed, to some degree, the fact that it’s a net-zero building.” It should be noted that Chandos and The Mosaic Centre are located in Edmonton, AB, where temperatures can dip into the -30Cs in the winter months, so building a net-zero building is a huge accomplishment. In fact, it is the most northern commercial net-zero building in North America. » Read more: How Integrated Project Delivery reduces costs, waste and time for construction jobs

Five Green Shades of Melbourne: Development Projects Changing Capital of Victoria

October 10th, 2016
Artist's rendering of green roof potential of Melbourne, Australia.

Artist’s rendering of green roof potential of Melbourne, Australia.

According to The Economist’s Global Liveability Survey 2016, Melbourne’s remains the world’s most livable city for the sixth year running, and judging by the hike in eco-friendly development projects, it could soon bring home the medal as the planet’s greenest metropolis as well. With the upgrade to solar power we’ve seen in the CBD (Central Business District) of late and the Melbourne Water’s pledge to a more sustainable and livable Melbourne encompassing a number of projects, we’re witnessing a rise of environmentally conscious developments that will change the face of Victoria’s capital for good, for the better, and for the greener, too. » Read more: Five Green Shades of Melbourne: Development Projects Changing Capital of Victoria

The pros and cons of rain screens

July 21st, 2015

I haven’t spent any time writing about rain screens — a building technique that has tended to be associated with wetter climates. The point of rain screens is to let the water that gets behind the facade drain out so that the building stays dry. As our buildings are designed to be tighter and tighter, any penetration can lead to water getting into a wall assembly but having nowhere to get out causing all kinds of havoc from wood rot to mould build-up. Eventually, these two things can lead to structural failure and health issues for building occupants.

I contacted Dave Petersen from Outside In Design Build to discuss rain screens, a technique for constructing a wall assembly that has gained traction over the years due to its ability to keep water away from infiltrating walls. According to Dave, it is a requirement of most local building codes. While it is used on the (usually) rainy West Coast (note they’ve instituted drought restrictions in Vancouver),  it is also a good method for building here in the east, even in colder climates, and, in fact, many cladding materials require its use with their products.

How it works (from correspondence with Dave Petersen):

The rain screen assembly allows for water getting past the outer (face) barrier to weep down and outward (gravity assisted and pressure equalized) once the wind abates through a series of engineered flashings and weep-assemblies. These often include bug screens, through wall flashings in metal and ice and water shield materials. The key with this system is to allow for pressure equalization behind the face materials which will allow the water to drain away instead of continuing its way through the wall assembly. Most wall systems (brick and stone veneer, siding, EIFS*, cement board, etc.) are designed to work as part of a rain screen wall system – there are few barrier walls left, other than precast concrete panels, which have a rain screen caulking system that helps drain these assemblies. Hot/dry climates can even benefit from a rain screen cladding as it may act as a radiant barrier and slows heat transfer through the façade into the building.


face sealed EIFS

Traditional Face-sealed facades (Diagram from:


Rain screen assemblies

Rain screen assembly (Diagram from:


The pros and cons of rain screens are listed below (again, thanks to Dave Petersen).


  • Enhanced water management in all climate zones (USA and Canada)
  • Improved material durability
  • Better IEQ
  • Effective at blocking radiant heat gains


  • Possibly higher costs
  • More detailing at the site level
  • May be prone to detailing errors that limit its effectiveness (mortar dams, etc)

The cons can be minimized by using an integrated system approach and most cladding products are readily detailed for these types of walls. Education of trades and proper site management will minimize most of the other issues.

(*EIFS – “Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems”).

For a detailed explanation of how rain screens work to keep water from infiltrating building envelopes, visit Building Science Corporation‘s thorough explanation of how they work:

and this one:

Thanks again to Dave Petersen for his time and knowledge on rain screens!

Visit: Outside In Design Build for more information on sustainable building.




VANGUARD Kitchen Designers

June 12th, 2015

I think it is time to refresh the term and our perception of Kitchen Designers and award proper recognition to the modern, progressively unconventional, VANGUARD Kitchen Designers of today, and tomorrow’s.

To do this, I dare to differentiate Vanguard Kitchen Designers from the traditional Kitchen (sales) Designers.

Sales representatives work with customers to find what they want, create solutions and ensure and ensure a smooth and profitable sales process for the business they represent.
Kitchen (sales) Designers, know their products and how to put them together to create a user-safe, functional and attractive space for their customers with the main goal of profiting the business.  They have the option to choose what products they represent, but their measure of success is -only- in the quality of sales and its profit. Kitchen (sales) designers rely on suppliers t provide affordable green choices.

This sounds good, business as usual.  After all, when a business is successful, it is good for the economy and with excess there is the opportunity to help charities and so on.

I invite you to a new chapter of thinking when kitchen designers come to mind. I also hope to influence you and change the way you want to see kitchens and their designers in the future.

But first, what is Vanguard? It means any creative group actively in the forefront of INNOVATION and APPLICATION OF NEW CONCEPTS and technologies in a given field. Vanguard is an old variation of the French word avant-garde, meaning “front-guard”.

I see Vanguard Kitchen Designers as responsible design activists, progressive decision makers, with a special attention to the changing world. They positively influence businesses, introduce and develop new ways of thinking, and drive new and better technologies to emerge. Vanguard Kitchen Designers are also customer oriented, but are very critical with  products and recommend only those that are future-friendly. In addition, Vanguard Kitchen Designers are genuinely sensitive and attentive to the ecological complexity of their design  *** Vanguard Kitchen Designers see and approach design as an ethical business practice for the benefit of all, rather than a user-centred, consumer driven privilege and indulgence. They are constantly evolving and revolutionizing their design applications to meet a much broader spectrum of social and environmental issues, beyond its traditional professional territory.

The good news for the kitchen & bath industry is that products are getting jazzier, greener and more efficient. However, Vanguard Kitchen Designers don’t take the product’s solo offerings at face-value. They consider the product from multiple angles, including its impact on society and the environment.

(TIPs for responsible kitchen design)

  • consider the environmental and social impacts of everything they design
  • think strategically instead of traditionally: see sustainability as a non-negotiable way of doing business
  • are a force in moving from well-intentioned but lightweight ‘greening’ to a deeper and  more impactful sustainability and resilience (Rob Fleming: Design Education for a Sustainable Future) Request companies to clearly identify the origin and ingredients of their product, and how to recycle/reuse them (Sustainble Products are those that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from extraction of raw materials until the final disposal -wikipedia)
  • they are CRITICAL OF appliances: *critical of their ever-growing size in relation to combination of waste; *critical of the positioning of appliances in their design for energy-saving purposes; *critical of the appliance built-in offerings and those increased energy-draw consequences; * critical of their potential IAQ hazards/Indoor Air Quality (see my blog
  • they are CRITICAL OF EVERY MATERIAL that goes into a kitchen and bath space from construction to decoration, and consider all aspects of a product: materials, manufacturing, packaging, distribution, usage, disposal = CO2 reduction, toxicity, less waste, renewable materials
  • ask for transparency. Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) is a standardised (ISO 14025) and LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) based tool to communicate the environmental performance of a product or system
  • provide transparency via design statement and back-up documentation
  • see luxury in a totally different /vanguard value system (i will write on this in more detail) promote sustainable consumption and production
  • provide COST EFFECTIVE DESIGN *optimise site potential, design to maximise energy independence to reduce energy load, increase efficiency and maximise the use of renewable energy sources:
  • identify the building’s operating and maintenance issue(s) during preliminary design for reduced energy and resource costs and prevented system failures. Specify materials and systems that simplify and reduce maintenance requirements-
  • design to protect and conserve water, reuse and recycle water for on-site use
  • design to maximise energy consumption, maximise daylighting, provide appropriate ventilation and moisture control
  • design for the future. Create beauty, flexibility that serves long-lasting satisfaction on any budget ( )
  • create ‘timeless’ that saves our planet’s resources
  • prefer local manufacturers-contributing to local economy, while save energy and resources and decrease transportation related air pollution
  • celebrate and protect history via creative solutions of re-use of existing materials for a truly unique and personal space
  • reject/boycott materials containing toxins —and with that:
  • help growing competition for healthy choices —and with that:
  • speed up the availability of more and better choices at more affordable prices, contribute to the green economy
  • enjoy sustainable choices privately and professionally

Cheers to All VANGUARD Kitchen Designers!

mobEE Strawbale School Portables are a low impact breath of fresh air

February 11th, 2015
Straw Bale Portable mobEE

Straw Bale Portable mobEE


I met Ben Polley on the trip to Poland in October, 2014, but his company, Evolve Builders had been on my list of ones to contact for awhile. Evolve Builders builds low impact houses and buildings from straw, earth and wood. The company is divided into various divisions each of which specialize in a particular area of green building ranging from green design to “biological based building systems” (dealing with gray and black water and the like) through the Torus division.

mobEE, the prefabricated straw bale school portable system has recently signed a contract with the Pinoleville Pomo Nation to provide six mobEE units for the aboriginal group. What is unusual about this contract is that this nation is based in northern California. You might be wondering, like I did, why this group from northern California selected a southern  Ontario-based natural builder to build these school buildings for them. The questions was answered in Evolve’s press release:

After extended bid requests for a strawbale constructed portable school structure failed to garner interest locally or elsewhere across the U.S., determined Pinoleville Native American Head Start program representatives discovered Evolve’s mobEE eco-portables. Both parties came to learn that they held in common many organizational values, including support for local jobs, environmental stewardship, healthy buildings and energy efficiency. This inspired a joint effort that ultimately will meet Pinoleville Pomo Nation’s ideals, needs and budget.

Construction of the walls will take place in the Durham, Ontario factory then the parts will be shipped to California where they will be assembled by local trades, overseen by the mobEE group.

» Read more: mobEE Strawbale School Portables are a low impact breath of fresh air

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