A new 12-storey wood building project recently announced for a George Brown College site on Toronto’s waterfront has so many superlatives, innovations and firsts, it’s hard to keep track of them all.
For starters, the Arbour, announced by the college in July, will be Ontario's first tall wood institutional building.
Tall wood is generally considered above nine storeys. B.C.'s recently wrapped Brock Commons student residence is Canada's — and the world's — tallest wood building of any type, for now, at 18 storeys.
On the academic side, the Arbour will become home to a new Tall Wood Building Research Institute, a space where on campus design, construction and architectural luminaries will be able to work collaboratively and link with other wood building researchers from around the globe.
On the tech side, it will also house George Brown's School of Computer Technology, playing a lead role in the City of Toronto's Smart City Initiative and infused with multiple sensor systems "talking to the building," said one George Brown spokesperson, and recording every imaginable measurable — maybe even harnessing piezoelectric energy, that is, energy from mechanical stresses.
It will also be energy positive, resilient and sustainable. Other descriptors George Brown is using are networked, intelligent, sensitive and adaptable.
"It is not just a tall wood building, and low carbon, but it's also going to be net positive, and it will be a smart building, so it will use information technology. It's going to be planned so it is future proofed, so it is flexible and will adapt to changes in the future," explained George Brown's dean of the Centre for Arts, Design and Information Technology Luigi Ferrara.
The building does not yet have a confirmed budget but Ferrara suggested it would be in the ballpark of a typical post-secondary structure, costed at around $100 to $120 million. Funding sources have not yet been confirmed and the size will be 170,000 square feet.
The development plan is to call for a design consultant in the fall, have a competition for proposals, select a team that would work with the owner to develop plans, seek approvals and break ground, Ferrara said, in a year or two.
The build could take two to three years. The building is part of George Brown's migration to Toronto's east waterfront, said Ferrara.
A health sciences building opened in 2012 and a design centre is currently under construction nearby. The Arbour will go up adjacent to the health sciences building.
Ferrara, who has worked closely with George Brown president Anne Sado on the project, described an initial "charrette" — a brainstorming meeting involving some 70 or 80 diverse professionals including representatives of Waterfront Toronto — as a powerful source of innovative ideas.
"We had a fantastic charrette with the industry and collected the best ideas from them," he said.
"We came up with this concept of the four-pronged approach, net positive, low carbon, future proofed and smart, that will be an example for the rest of the buildings to be built on the waterfront."
The college's announcement also highlighted building automation and recognized that previously independent disciplines such as design and development innovation are now being integrated.
Ferrara acknowledged that his job title, integrating formerly distinct disciplines, as well as the "co-locating" of three new George Brown buildings on the waterfront, were indicative of this renaissance spirit.
"By creating a larger precinct that includes other partners, we will be able to better educate our students," he said.
Ferrara, an architect, said the tall wood building concept was arrived at when stakeholders began to imagine what kind of new building could complement the two other George Brown waterfront builds.
"This new building will be for information technology primarily, and putting together these pieces will put us in the forefront of responding to the digital disruption happening right now, and training for the new types of jobs in the future," said Ferrara.
"And we were thinking of future generations, and how important it is to build low carbon to fight climate change."
To reach positive energy, Ferrara said the owners and consultants will focus on developing passive and smart conservation systems to get 80 or 90 per cent of the way there.
"If the building is smarter, using energy better, and redistributing energy, if it is designed in a way, say with a double skin, and changes in the temperature in the interior are kept to a minimum already, then the amount of extra energy you need to generate is smaller," he explained.