Living With Lakes Centre, Sudbury, Canada
A new sustainable lakeside research lab in a landscape damaged by nickel mining is 77% more efficient than conventional building
Architects JL Richards & Associates and Busby Perkins & Will Architects
Location Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
Completed April 2011
Establishing a new building on a lakeshore setting wouldn’t usually be seen as a positive contribution to the environment. But the
£13 million Vale Living with Lakes Centre for Freshwater Restoration & Research — a laboratory shared by Canada’s Laurentian University and the government — is situated in Sudbury, Ontario, a city devastated by heavy mining, primarily of nickel.
The damaging process of burning off the sulphur to extract the metals created a blackened wasteland, and in the 1960s Sudbury was cited as one of the largest sources of acid-forming emissions in the world.
However, over the last few decades, the city has undergone an environmental rebirth. Some 3,000ha of the barren landscape has been reclaimed and more than 8 million trees planted. Water studies have also demonstrated a chemical and biological recovery of many of the region’s countless lakes.
Energy use is reduced by 77% compared witha conventional building
The 2,800sq m Living with Lakes Centre seeks to continue this research work and regeneration by bridging the gap between development and environmental reclamation.
The centre was spearheaded by environmental scientist and water restoration specialist John Gunn, now its director. Gunn began fundraising for the new building 18 years ago when it became clear the collection of 1940s cabins that he and his colleagues used for their research were too small and dilapidated for their requirements.
Local architect JL Richards & Associates and Vancouver practice Busby Perkins & Will were appointed in 2006 to design the new centre, which is 12m from the edge of Ramsey Lake, the largest freshwater lake in the city.
Jeffrey Laberge, an associate at JL Richards, says the brief for the centre was unconventional from the outset.
“The scientists talked about what the building needed to deliver and the design goals that formed the DNA of the building,” says Laberge. “John Gunn didn’t want a building that violated their highfalutin principles.”
The form that emerged is of two buildings — the main two-storey building and the smaller watershed building — that echo a flowing glacier and follow the lake’s topographical line.
The main building contains offices, storage and lecture facilities on the ground floor and open-plan labs on the first floor. The single-storey Watershed building will serve as a base for field research, housing storage facilities and specialised lab spaces.
The centre includes a range of low-energy elements such as a geo-thermal heating/cooling system with ground-source heat pumps, a high performance thermal envelope, solar domestic water heating,special blueberry roofs and natural daylighting — all of which mean that energy use is reduced by 77% when compared with a conventional building.
The building’s energy performance goes beyond any requirements of the LEED Platinum standards, the Canadian green building council’s certification system.
Sustainable Water Use strategy
The research carried out at the Living with Lakes Centre seeks to solve a variety of water pollution problems, so it is appropriate that the centre itself demonstrates a sustainable approach to water.
The buildings use a site-integrated rain and grey water reuse system to reduce potable water consumption by almost 80%.
Rain and grey water is filtered through a bioswale storm water filtration before being directed to the building’s reservoir — a converted pond near the Watershed building that was enlarged to be 3m deep and 60m wide. Water from the reservoir is used for irrigation, flushing toilets, and cleaning gear, vehicles and boats.
Once it has been used, the water is cleaned, recycled and directed back to the pond.
In addition, precast concrete permeable pavers have been used in the car parking area, near the main entrance, and storm water is filtered through the paving surface before being routed to the pond.
A legacy of Sudbury’s bleak mining history is that, owing to the high levels of sulphur, a particular species of blueberry thrives in the city’s soil. So the proposal to plant the roofs of the two buildings at the Living with Lakes Centre with these blueberries was an inspired move.
The blueberry plants are being grown in greenhouses and will be transferred next spring in a 200mm-thick growing medium already placed on the roofs.
A 200mm layer of polystyrene insulation with a total U-value of 0.025W/m2K was laid between this and the roof membrane, sheeting and structure. The total U-value for the roof assembly is 0.0216W/m2K.
An irrigation system has been installed on the roof, connected to the site’s reservoir, but architect Jeffrey Laberge believes it is unlikely the plants will need to be watered, as they are naturally suited to dry conditions.
A challenge for architects specifying materials for buildings in Canada is the extreme temperature swings, which can range from 35°C in summer to -35°C in winter. The blueberry roof provides extra protection from these extremes for the materials beneath. And the blueberries can be harvested.
The main 1,800sq m building and its smaller 900sq m Watershed building both use a structural glulam pine frame, with the base of the buildings clad in cut pieces of local limestone tied back to the structure.
Limestone was recommended by the scientists because it neutralises acid found in contaminated soil or water and helps to bind the metals. Small limestone particles may be washed from the building’s facade into Lake Ramsey, helping to neutralise any contaminated water.
The buildings are clad in horizontally fixed strips of eastern white cedar, the most common shoreline tree species.
The design team designed a 3m-wide panelised system for the buildings’ walls, which ranged in height from 1.5m to 2m and incorporates two separate layers of insulation.
The external wall has 140mm of fibreglass batt insulation which achieves a U-value of 0.05W/m2K, while a 25mm layer of rigid polystyrene insulation is incorporated into the panelised system, achieving a U-value of 0.20W/m2K. The total U-value of the exterior wall assembly is 0.0358 W/m2K.
The 165mm-thick panelised system, which is tied to the buildings’ structure with structural steel clips, also gives lateral support.
Architect Jeffrey Laberge says the prefabricated panelised wall system is not commonly used in Canada, but given its quality control and ease of assembly he would readily specify it again.
Architects JL. Richards & Associates and Busby Perkins & Will Architects, Client Laurentian University, Structural engineer JL Richards & Associates and Fast & Epp, Mechanical engineer JL Richards & Associates and Stantec, Electrical engineer K Lang Engineering, Civil engineer JL Richards & Associates, Landscape architect PWL Partnership, Commissioning consultant CFMS Consulting, General contractor Tribury Construction