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2007 06 01
Doors Open Toronto
Doors Open Toronto is always a great event, albeit somewhat difficult to plan; this year’s events spanned approximately from Islington to Morningside, Steeles to the Waterfront. I’ve found that the best strategy is to check out a few buildings thoroughly rather than running all over the city trying to fit in as many as possible. Going along with this year’s theme of sustainability, I decided to explore a few green buildings in and around Spadina: Roberston Building, Zeidler Partnership Architects Building, 401 Richmond and The Roundhouse @ the Steamwhistle Brewery.


The Robertston Building
The green focus is apparent the minute you walk in the door of 215 Spadina Ave; a beautiful story-high biowall sits bathed in natural light coming in from the ample windows. In addition to the obvious visual appeal, this biowall is essentially one big green air purifier. With their Spadina Ave. location, there is definitely a need to mitigate the air pollution coming in from constant traffic outside, as well as the usual indoor air contaminants such as particle board/carpet off-gassing etc. According to their site, plants were selected according to low light tolerance and air contaminant reduction ability, requires very little maintenance and are only lighted artificially at night, thus only using off-peak energy supplies. This is a schematic of how the biowall works:

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Image from the building site.


A picture of the wall itself:

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And a picture of the ‘pockets’ within which each plant is nestled:

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This building also features a beautiful 4000 sq. ft. extensive green roof. To facilitate the incredible view of the skyline there is an ample cedar deck (with several planters) as well as a glass-enclosed greenhouse with, you guessed it, more plants. The benefits of greenroofs are many, including: improving air quality, retaining stormwater which reduces combined sewer overflow occurrences, promoting biodiversity by providing insect and bird habitat (which can further increase plant biodiversity), reducing the urban heat island effect, providing insulation to the building (which may result in lower heating/cooling costs), protecting the roof membrane from damage. Further, the deck and greenhouse act to facilitate social interaction and relaxation.


This is the greenroof itself:

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This is an example of the fantastic rooftop view:

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In addition to its green elements, the building is also known for its socially conscious tenants such as the Centre for Social Innovation, which includes a wide diversity of organizations such as Ability Online, the National Anti-Racism Council of Canada, Women’s Healthy Environments Network and rabble.ca. My first thought when I walked in to the centre: This is how office space should be. Open spaces, gleaming wooden surfaces and a ton of natural light; very soothing and conducive to creative endeavours. Note to those of you lucky enough to work there: I am totally jealous. Please hire me.

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The Zeidler Partnership Architects Building
Although this building at 315 Queen St. West wasn’t an official green building, I was very pleased with the layout. A curving staircase leads up to the office space which features three small floors with a large atrium in the centre. I loved the natural light, cheery yellow/clean white walls and abundance of plants; again, an excellent working environment. An extremely well known architectural firm, Zeidler has been involved in more iconic buildings projects in this city than you can shake a stick at, such as the Eaton Centre, and Ontario Place


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401 Richmond
Located at 401 Richmond St. West, this building is very close to my heart. In this one building I have worked at an environmental organization, had an artist friend who had a live/work studio, studied to be an herbalist and researched green roofs. In otherwords, this building houses an even more diverse and creative roster of tenants than the Robertson building, particularly with respect to art studios. Add to that a cool café on the main floor that offers many organic options, a beautiful lush courtyard, various eco-restorations that have been done to the building and an amazing greenroof, and we have what is in my humble opinion, the ‘coolest’ building in Toronto.


Their green roof is truly innovative. At first they implemented a roof garden using various planters on the large wooden deck and vertical gardens. I have fond memories of hanging out there in the summer enjoying the shade, the greenery and the great view. But they didn’t stop there: a few years ago they installed an extensive greenroof, meaning that it grows on a lightweight medium on the roof itself, which increases all of the benefits which I mentioned in the Robertson Building section. Thus, they have managed to create a green roof in which as much space is covered by greenery as possible, while still allowing tenants and visitors to use most of the roof (extensive roofs are too lightweight to accommodate regular human use).


Vertical roof gardens:

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Rooftop Garden:

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Extensive Greenroof:

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Roundhouse @ the Steamwhistle Brewery
This one was a little out of the way when you’re traveling on foot, but well worth it. Many elements of the original historic building have been maintained, such as the exposed brick and post and beam construction elements. Environmentally speaking, they use Bullfrog Power (uses only wind and low-impact hydro generators), a Deep Lake Water Cooling System and a direct steaming system for their manufacturing and climate control for the building. Free samples of their one and only product (Steamwhistle Pilsner) were on hand. While I can appreciate the logic of a brewery handing out free beer samples, it gave the event a strange atmosphere; the combination of leering men and young families in the Roundhouse was indeed a bit surreal. Nonetheless, the tour of the brewing area was well worth it (and yes, we did get to hear the actual ‘steamwhistle’).


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In the part of the Roundhouse adjoining the ‘bar area’ there were some beautiful scale models which pay tribute to the building’s rail heritage.


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If you didn’t get a chance to make it out last weekend don’t fret: many of the buildings offer year-round tours provided that you make an appointment. Happily, more venues are being added each year to Doors Open as it increases in popularity.

All images were taken by me unless otherwise indicated.
[email this story] Posted by Liza Badaloo on 06/01 at 09:25 PM

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