Reimagine Magazine | Issue 7

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Reinvigorating obsolete buildings a crucial development


Managing building construction waste for a sustainable future

Sustainably Siloed A Danish grain silo is smartly converted into a unique residence







22 39 44 57



The future is fibreglass. ISSUE 7

EDITORIAL STAFF editor-in-chief

Vivian Manasc GlasCurtain’s Therm fibreglass-framed curtain wall systems reduce operating costs by upwards of 20% and reduce environmental impact by over 50%.

managing editor

Kent McKay

creative director / designer

Carey van der Zalm

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Gloria Alamrew, K.C. Conway, David DiCenzo, Safira Lakhani, Cheryl Mahaffy, Graeme Matichuk, Jyllian Park, Nikki Wiart, Shelley Williamson

The future is GlasCurtain.

CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS AND ILLUSTRATORS Atelier Hu, Richard Barnes, Robert Benson Photography, Adam Borman, Carl Turner Architects, Tim Crocker, Paul Crosby, DesignWorks, Malin Falk, Jeff Hilbrecht, Rasmus Hjortshøj, Jeffrey Paul Kelly, Simon Luethi, Manasc Isaac Architects, Bruce T. Martin Photography, Mecanoo, David Möller, Michael Muraz, Garrett Rowland, Søren Jensen Rådgivende Ingeniørfirma

Reimagin is a publication produced by architectural, engineering and design firm Manasc Isaac, a Canadian leader in integrated sustainable building with deep expertise in reimagined existing buildings, primarily those built between 1950 and 2000.

Reimagine magazine showcases the best of reimagined spaces and promotes sustainable building practices in the community, and strives to be the authoritative business voice on the value of reimagined building practices.

The Circular Economy


What it means, and why we are paying attention

In the world of design and construction, it is more difficult to imagine a circular economy. Waste is everywhere in both design and construction and the thinking of the 20th Century is still with us. That is about to change. The amount of waste in the world is problematic for cities who are in the waste management business. Where does all this waste go? Land, water and raw materials are becoming more scarce. Especially in the vicinity of cities, there is a challenge to find more space for landfill sites. In many countries, mining materials from the earth is under seige. Part of the solution is to rethink how we look at existing buildings and existing materials. Can we conceptualize older, unattractive buildings as a source of energy and materials, rather than as a potential pile of rubble? Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] are providing a framework for new conversations. Last year, the first-ever Circular Construction Challenge, based in Denmark, invited teams from around the world to rethink waste. Can we perhaps reimagine a world where design and construction create no waste at all?

Three key shifts were proposed as part of this challenge:

1. A shift in how we typically design and construct buildings — highlighting solutions that reinforce the shift from a linear economy to a circular economy.

2. A shift in how we perceive waste in society – promoting waste as a

resource for new solutions and products commercially, for consumers and for society as a whole.

These three shifts highlight the even larger challenge faced when we think about existing buildings. Existing buildings can be seen as resources rather than as waste, yet there are many legal and regulatory barriers that result in buildings being demolished. For example, new life safety standards require earthquake reinforcement and old materials are not certified to contemporary standards and are therefore difficult to reuse. The first time I remember running into this problem was decades ago, when we were tasked with replacing an old maintenance building from the turn of the 20th Century. While the old building had few redeeming features, it did boast large, remarkable riveted steel trusses that spanned over 40 feet. It seemed to me that these beautiful trusses could be easily removed during the deconstruction of the old building and integrated into the design and construction of the replacement facility. The problem was that there were no engineering records from the original fabrication of these trusses and the engineers could not afford the risk of certifying their conformance to current building codes and standards. Despite the proven performance of these structures for decades, there was no way to prove that they could still work. There are steel recyclers, I was reassured - and that was the end of the story. These beautiful and durable steel trusses went to the recycling shop and were down-cycled, likely into reinforcing steel. Imagine an alternative ending to this story: what if there were a system to assess the durability of existing materials so they could easily be reused? What if the aversion to risk of failure could be balanced with a technical solution - perhaps an ability to scan the steel and recalculate its properties? A circular economy is an economy where waste = food. Waste from any given process becomes fuel for the next process. The waste from a deconstructed building should be able to be repurposed in its entirety. Not recycled or downcycled, but upcycled into products and materials that work in the replacement building, or in another structure elsewhere. Reimagining existing buildings is a crucial part of the larger conversation!

3. A legal and regulatory shift — letting these innovative solutions

serve as a way to influence political thinking and push the agenda

Vivian Manasc

towards a more circular society.

Editor-In-Chief |



he fashion trend of 2019 is circular: less waste and more reuse of existing materials is resonating on the runways. In 2019, everything old is new again - whether repurposing waste from post-industrial processes or reusing and reimagining well-worn and well loved pieces, we are seeing this idea bubbling.


photo: jeff hilbrecht

The Kids Are All Right


A social enterprise in Edmonton’s City Hall trains youth in the culinary arts


Tucked inside Edmonton’s City Hall is a business that feeds downtown “dwellers” while empowering young people with work experience and kitchen skills. Formerly known as the Kids in the Hall Bistro, The Hallway Cafe underwent a transformation in 2018 that refreshed its menu, its mandate and, crucially, its space.

The extensive renovation, led by Manasc Isaac Architects, delivered an airy and open environment brimming with generous greenery and natural light for both patrons and staff to enjoy. Tent-shaped booths were designed to create a home-away-from-home, and natural wood finishes provide a sense of health and well-being. In the kitchen, youth have access to a comprehensive array of cooking tools and specialized equipment, including a pizza oven, espresso machine, combi-therm oven and point of sale systems. The Hallway Cafe has a strong social conscience and teaches the importance of sustainability in the food service industry. All of their packaging and disposable dishware are compostable and made from renewable resources, while excess food is shared with the local women’s emergency services and other community organizations.


Circling Back A Malmö collective challenges the design industry to think about the circular economy

Design collective Malmö Upcycling Service (M.U.S.) set up at the 2019 Stockholm Furniture Fair to remind the design community of its role in the circular economy. Their exhibit, “You can’t sit with us! Unless…” showed a range of chairs and stools made out of repurposed materials including wood, leather, foam and canvas. M.U.S. invited delegates to take a seat with them - but only after they answered yes to three criteria aimed to provoke responsible thinking: You strive towards implementing a circular 1. business model

2. You aim to reduce, reuse & recycle ALL left over material from your production

One of your goals is to take responsibility for 3. your products after their use Although M.U.S.’s invitation to take a seat is playful, it’s a reminder of the responsibility that the design and construction industry is taking more and more seriously: that we must plan for the long-term future of all the materials our projects use.

photo: david möller

photo: malin falk


Bringing Brutalism to Light


When Manasc Isaac Architects refreshed WSP Place, a drab 1970s concrete office building, the lobby was given a chic update to match its sleek new façade. The new design was befitting of its high-profile location at a key intersection in Edmonton’s downtown core.


photo: jeffrey paul kelly

The interior feature lighting design echoes the concept used on the building exterior: it uses recessed linear LED strip lighting integrated into a dynamic veneer wall panel system. Working around the limitations of retrofitting an existing building, the design played with the way visitors and occupants perceive the depth and shape of the space. The lighting system is as practical as it is beautiful. Fixtures are inset into panels in a way that they may be popped out and replaced, while centrally located drivers are easy for operations staff to access. The lighting design for WSP Place received a Merit Award in the Illuminating Engineering Society’s 2019 Illumination Awards.


Up, Up and Away Upcycled materials lend drama to an Omaha theatre

Some of its repurposed components include a maple lobby floor (reclaimed from a nearby demolished building), audience seating (salvaged when the Omaha Community Playhouse was remodeled), and even sinks from the steakhouse that previously stood on the site. photos: paul crosby


The Blue Barn Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska, is full of history. Fusing building materials salvaged from local projects, the theatre offers a nod to its community’s past, while holding space for its present and future.


Squaring The Circle A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life. –

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ask an expert

Reimagine Magazine sat down with industry experts to discuss the emerging topic of the circular economy and its potential for sustainable design and construction. VM: One of the things we’re hearing about is the “circular economy.” Vivian Manasc (VM) Principal Architect, Manasc Isaac

I think of it like a forest: leaves fall down, and this creates food for bugs. Historically, nobody paid attention to waste in the construction industry, but as we start to be smarter about sustainability we realize we can’t afford waste. Waste costs money, and it has impact.

RO: I’ve seen this term, circular economy, showing up everywhere.

Rob Otway (RO) VP & District Manager, PCL Construction

Mike Turner (MT) Principal, Manasc Isaac

It’s in so many articles and pieces.

VM: It’s this emerging conversation about the fact that we just can’t afford to create waste anymore. In the world of construction, we have a responsibility to join the conversation about waste because we, historically, have created so much.

RO: It’s interesting you say that. If you take the current buildings we’re doing, such as Manasc Isaac’s retrofit of WSP Place, or PCL’s HSBC project, we’ve made an iterative step – we saved the structure of the existing building, reclad them and added more efficient heating and cooling and lighting, but I can bet you right now we haven’t thought about what the end of the building’s life looks like. It’s great to reimagine a building, but usually, there’s no long-term plan to manage the next renovation. When we took apart a tower curtainwall I said, “What’s the plan for all of this leftover glass?” No one would take it. I said, “Isn’t there a glass recycler?” We were told that no one would take it because of the coatings on the glass, but the bigger problem was that there was just no immediate need for it, so to the landfill it went. We have a goal to sort all of our waste into bins, and recycle 95% of it. This is actually getting harder, as there are more stringent requirements to accept waste for recycling.


Rita Melo (RM) Principal, Manasc Isaac


VM: It’s always a timing problem, exactly. We had the same problem with the precast concrete panels we removed from WSP Place during its renovation.

RM: Yes, there was a lot of interest in the leftover concrete, but no one knew what they would do with the panels until they needed them. They started giving up.

RO: Absolutely. Managing the supply (what’s coming in, and when) and making sure it matches demand is a tricky problem.

VM: Maybe the glass is coming off a building, for example, and no one needs it. But six months later, a greenhouse project might need it. So, how can we connect these dots? For example, who’s going to store materials that could be reused later, even if they’re not needed at this moment? It applies to other areas, such as offcuts, too! How do we design so that there’s less waste, in cutting? This involves the supply chain, and I think construction partners are going to be crucial here.

RO: I think technology based on modular is the way to go. Trying to retrofit an existing building for modular on a tight timeline isn’t effective. Why can’t we come up with standard components to a modular environment? Standard wall sections, for example. So you, as designers, come into a box or frame that’s modular, and you still get to do the architecture piece, but using standard blocks.

VM: We have seen a lot of modular innovation already, yes! The other technology of the future, I think, is customization. 3D printing can help us design one of a kind solutions with no waste.

MT: I t’s a both/and answer, I think. Let’s go back to the idea of pre-manufactured curtainwall, all done in the factory. When the panels aren’t all standard, the manufacturers initially feel resistance to that, but they quickly get better at it. They learn, just like we are learning, and become more efficient and create less waste on the manufacturing side. Everybody wins, but only if we think about these things early and soon enough.

VM: While we are on the subject of precision: one of the things that creates the most “re-work” and waste that we see currently, is that things aren’t dimensionally true.

RM: Unfortunately, this is true for new buildings. The part that bogreimagine

gles my mind is that these buildings were just constructed.


RO: The answer to that is to really use BIM as a tool, from design to shop drawings, generated from the design model. It’s great in theory, but there are some roadblocks!

RM: It is a struggle. We’ve used BIM, and the first hurdle is to get all the sub trades on board. It can be expensive, and an experiment.

RO: The firsts will always be like that. Not every design firm has been open to opening the model up, and I suppose there are reasons for that. But, as an industry, if we want to go down that road, the model’s got to be open and available. Eventually, this will become the standard and the norm - and I don’t think it will take long.

RO: The trade community is varied. The larger, more sophisticated trades are really up to speed, maybe even more so than some designers. In fact, I see trades having more designers in-house, to help add detail to what we, as builders, build.

MT: I agree. We’re all being asked to do so much better, with no extra resources and the industry has forgotten a lot of what it used to know. We go to sites where we’ve almost killed ourselves getting it together, and contractors say, “This is the first time we’ve seen a set of documents that have been edited, in years,” and this shouldn’t be a compliment, this should be standard.

VM: And the answer is in collaboration with industry partners. We could do a far more effective job of advocating for one another. We know consultants can save money if they’re allocated appropriate fees, so let’s help each other advocate for the resources we need to elevate these standards for our clients.

MT: T he work that the people in this room have been doing is top-tier. There’s something attractive about working with people who care, toward best practice. There’s a new model, I think, where design and build teams can work more closely so that, when something happens, the spotlight isn’t just shining on the builder saying, “What are you going to do about this?” but instead, it’s spread across the other consultants and trades to come up with an integrated solution.

VM: This idea that we’re all in this together – consultants, contractors, clients and the planet – designing net-zero, and considering future constructability; to me, this is central to the notion of the circular economy. It’s about collectively having a greater, coordinated vision.

RO: Yes. The “ah-ha!” realization for me is that when we start a renovation, that’s great! We’ve decided not to tear the building down. But we need to have a plan. Once the renovation is complete, what’s the next phase for the building? Who knows what the technology will be like when it next needs to be renovated – but in a way, it doesn’t matter because the end goal of the building - its future - has been planned. re

Virtual Reality was used to allow the leadership of Saddle Lake Elementary School to move through the school, long before construction began.

GETTING REAL Virtual Reality as communication, participation, education by safira lakhani | images: manasc isaac architects

leading edge


he impact of the built environment is

profound on all levels of the human expe-

rience. It consciously and unconsciously shapes and informs the way we think, speak, and behave, influencing all senses of the body. This intersection of architecture and sensory perception is known as

“ Every touching experience of architecture is multi-sensory; qualities of matter, space, and scale are measured equally by the eye, ear, nose, skin, tongue, skeleton, and muscle.” - juhani pallasmaa

phenomenology. At its core is the simple assertion that the built environment is experienced by engaging the body through its multiple senses. Conventional design processes shift our holistic and multi-sensory experience of architecture to a single, ocular understanding of space. Although the built environment is experienced in three or more dimensions, the design process has traditionally been restricted to two-dimensional representations experienced solely through the sense of sight. Drawings, including plans, sections, elevations, and even three-dimensional visualisations such as perspective sketches or computer models, are flattened onto two-dimensional viewing planes like computer screens or paper. These flat depictions turn the design process into a passive visual manipulation: they provide a visual description of a spatial condition, rather than direct access to it. The reliance on sight above all other senses during the design process commonly results in design that privileges aesthetics over understanding of how a space may actually be experienced. While designers may be able to fully imagine the experience, light, texture, color and materiality of a given space, there is a very limited ability to share that imagined reality.

vr as communication Virtual Reality (VR) technology offers a means of bridging the gap between architecture’s design process and people who would like to “pilot” these spaces that are created. Allowing many people to experience that which does not yet exist, VR is spatial, interactive, and occurs in real-time. Although it does not cater to all of the human senses, it offers a new level of experience and immersion, and operates as an extension of human perception. VR allows us to inhabit a simulated environment to access a spatial awareness and sense of scale that is not present in two-dimensional mediums. By moving through this virtual environment, many people are able to develop a sense of embodied cognition, understanding the space in relation to the movement of bodies through that space. Using VR,

A VR model of the design for the new Saddle Lake Elementary School in central Alberta allowed the Director of Education, Principal, and Vice Principal to each don the headset and virtually navigate through the school, moving their heads and bodies in response to what they were seeing. The experience was so vivid that, at one point, while moving up the large feature stairs in the VR model, one person had the experience of tripping, being so fully immersed in the VR world that her legs wanted to climb the stairs in reality. This interaction demonstrates how VR is able to communicate an embodied spatial awareness and, in doing so, foster the creation of more vivid memories, enhancing the experience of architecture before the building is completed.

dimensions, proportions, and design intent can be made manifest without abstraction or annotation. Donning a VR headset, there is an immediate, kinesthetic, embodied understanding of space, rather than a simple visual representation. Moving one’s head to look around, or, in more advanced headsets, walking around, the

“ Architecture articulates the experience of our being-in-the-world and strengthens our sense of reality and self.”

virtual world adjusts in the same way it would as if looking or moving through reimagine

reality. In this way, VR also enables an


inherent freedom of action as experienced in real life, providing the illusion of an unmediated experience of space.

- juhani pallasmaa

vr as public participation

vr as education

VR technology’s ability to realise such a

VR also has the capacity to overlay envi-

direct interaction between people and

ronmental data into a project model. For

their environment increases the role of VR

example, different sun angles can be set for

beyond the simple transmission of archi-

different days and times of year, allowing

tectural ideas. Especially during the design

shading and glare to be studied. Given the

process, VR can further human-centred

present and looming impacts of climate

design by increasing stakeholder-engage-

change, VR’s ability to simulate the natural

ment processes, allowing for design itera-

environment can also be useful to test

tions that would otherwise be missed.

and visualise the resilience of the built

Observing people inhabit a VR envi-

tool for environmental education. Because

environment. VR can become an important ronment can help architects to explore

of the complexity of climate-related issues,

connections with reactions to space and

VR provides a virtual first-hand experience

behaviour. In the virtual world, VR can

of the future impacts of design decisions

even offer real-time visualisation and

made in present-day. Studies conducted

feedback such that design changes can be

at Stanford University on the use of VR

made and experienced almost immediately

to share the impacts of climate change

to suit individual or community needs. In

showed that the more a person moved in a

this way, VR can facilitate participatory

VR experience, the more that they learned

design practices, in both early and later

and cared about the experience. By making

phases of design.

future events more tangible, visceral and

Virtual Reality offers real-time visualization and can also be updated in real time, facilitating unprecedented stakeholder engagement.

personal, we are able to internalise the VR can support processes of collective

impacts of our actions today. In this way,

decision-making and communication

VR offers the opportunity to increase both

about these decisions. In the Netherlands,

our knowledge of, and our ability to empa-

the municipality of the Hague, in col-

thize with, immaterial concepts. These findings have important implica-

the participatory re-design of a public

tions, especially for the future of archi-

park. The project capitalised on the perva-

tecture. VR can become an essential tool

sive nature of smartphone technology to

for the advocacy of good, responsible

share the VR experience with many people

design. By understanding the lifecycle of a

at once. VR was used to stimulate engage-

building in terms of its materials, flexibil-

ment and ownership in residents, not

ity, durability, deconstruction, etc., as well

only to convey the design intent, but also

as the impacts of climate on the building

to bring residents together to co-create

over time, VR can support the transition to

the park. Focusing on the needs of the

a circular built environment, advancing the

community that the park would eventually

agenda for sustainable development.

serve, the design of the park emerged as a response to local needs and conditions,

Exploring the potential of VR technology

resulting in a thoughtful and successful

to trace the experience of architecture,

urban space.

from initial ideation to built realisation, ultimately determines that the role of VR in architecture extends beyond mere communication and into an integral tool for iterative design and education, empowering human-centered and sustainable

design practices. re

“ We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” - winston churchill


laboration with The Hague University of Applied Sciences, used VR technology in


REANIMATING AN ICON A 21st Century Renaissance for a Ford Foundation Landmark

by jyllian park | photography: garrett rowland, © courtesy of gensler

photo: simon luethi

re The refreshed Ford Foundation suggests openness and transparency, inviting partners and the public.


photo: richard barnes

Faced with a massive interior renovation

Treasurer. “We take our role as stewards of

corten steel, and the hundreds of feet

Foundation decided to partner with the

seriously. We took on this renovation first

York City branch of the Ford Foundation

to bottom redesign that would see the

or over 50 years, the stately

12-storey mass of textured granite,

of sparkling glass that houses the New

has stood proudly at 320 E 43rd Street. In

2018, following four years of consultation,

construction, and more than $200 million

historic building enter the modern age.

“The original impetus for the project was updating the infrastructure, but while

and foremost because the building did not meet today’s fire, safety, or accessibility

requirements. But we wanted to ensure

that we preserved the aesthetic and vision of the original design.”

they were considering this major renova-

Centre for Social Justice was reimagined

says Jonas Gabbai, Gensler Design Director,

sign that envelops an entire New York City

to do a holistic facelift to the building.”

considered by many to be a standout, even

Given the gift of a canvas clad in sleek,

and residents alike a reason to cast their

as a brighter, more welcoming space. A

reflection of the Foundation’s mission of inclusivity and accessibility.

Since opening its doors in 1967, the mark-

er has been touted as a must-see, even in

the dense architectural magnificence that is Midtown Manhattan. Nonetheless, no

building is immune to the passage of time,


Gensler architecture firm to take on a top

this architectural and historical landmark

in renovations, the landmark home of

the newly renamed Ford Foundation


to get its headquarters compliant, the

tion just to get sprinklers in the building,”

“Ford realized that this was an opportunity

mid-century lines and modernist geom-

etry at every turn, the redesign needed to

live up to the gravitas of the space.

“The renovation was an opportunity to

An impressive feat of late-modernist de-

block, the Ford Foundation has long been

in a city that never fails to offer tourists busied gazes upwards.

Initially designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, the 415,000

ft2 building was always more than just

and even groundbreaking structures must

leverage one of our greatest assets—our

a workplace to house the employees of

city-wide ordinance stating that all public

a headquarters for the Foundation,” says

Widely celebrated as setting a precedent

place by 2018.

President, Chief Operating Officer, and

abide by updated building codes: namely, a buildings must have sprinkler systems in

building—to create something more than

John Bernstein, Ford Foundation Vice

the 80-year-old charitable organization. for how buildings across North America would come to fuse indoor and outdoor

re The Ford Foundation’s striking design is an architectural standout, even by Manhattan standards.

space throughout the latter half of the

20th Century, the building is perhaps most

notable for its tree-filled atrium originally

dreamed up by American landscape archi-

tect, Dan Kiley. Open to the public since

day one, the massive indoor garden stands

as an emblem of the sort of community that the organization works to create.

“The late Kevin Roche was a renowned architect who designed a soaring, in-

spiring space—one that captured the

high aspirations of Ford Foundation’s

social justice mission. The garden in the

atrium is equally groundbreaking, and it was important to preserve the values,”

remarks Bernstein. The redesign saw the Foundation shrinking its own adminis-

trative space, giving over tens of thou-

sands of square feet to other social justice groups. “We wanted the renovation and

new building design to reflect the values

of the Foundation in the 21st Century. And

as a result, we wanted to ensure that it was accessible and inclusive. We designed the new Center for Social Justice to be a vi-

brant, cross-sector hub where people and

organizations committed to social justice

could come together, collaborate, learn,

innovate, and advance ideas and solutions

to some of the most pressing challenges of our times. We needed to modify the space

and recalibrate Ford’s presence in the

building to make certain it was open and

“ We knew we wanted to work with people who could take on this scale of a project but do so in a way that would be about preserving and respecting the legacy of Kevin Roche.”

re A 10,000 ft2 garden is the lush centrepiece of the building. Open to the public, the garden encourages visitors to engage with the plants in a tactile way.


inviting to other partners and the public.”


re The renovation references the original interior palette of brass, mahogany and leather, referred to as “Ford Brown.”

Breathing new life into an iconic space

designed by renowned architects was no

light undertaking. “We knew we wanted to work with people who could take on this

scale of a project but do so in a way that

would be about preserving and respecting

the legacy of Kevin Roche,” says Bernstein.

“We needed a partner to help us reimag-

ine what was possible and would bring a

whole range of experts to the table to work

through the challenges. Gensler was an

incredible partner from start to finish, and

the thoughtfulness and precision they

brought to this renovation are on display

in every single detail.”

The 10,000 ft2 interior garden received a

facelift with the help of Florida landscape

architect Raymond Jungles, updating

re The project removed many of the barriers that reimagine

prevented some areas of the building from enjoying natural light and striking views in a move toward equity for all of its occupants.

the Manhattan-based Eden to include high-contrast signage for the visually

impaired, improving accessibility along

the paths, and encouraging visitors to

touch and interact with the foliage for a multi-sensory experience.


re Plain white walls in the interior offices and conference rooms serve as gallery space for the Ford Foundation’s impressive art collection.

was given to the banks of offices that live

on the other side of the glass walls over-

looking the towering atrium. Space that, before 2018, was far less equitable than

“We wanted to learn the rules of the space. We learned that everything was designed to be moveable on this very rigorous

6-foot module. If you moved a wall, you

had to move it 6-feet, 12-feet, 18-feet.

the eventual open-concept workspace

All of the doors were centred, and there

nization has evolved over the years,” says

bay so that it washed the door. We took

that Gensler provided. “Ford as an orga-

was always a light in the middle of the

Gabbai. “If you look at how the building

those sorts of cues and adapted them to

down organization. There was a hierarchy,

rules were allowed us to create a redesign

was laid out in the 60s, it was a very top-

and that didn’t reflect the way the organization had changed over the years.”

Gabbai and the team at Gensler loved the

bustle visible from the floor of the atrium.

But seeing office workers moving about

their days like ants framed in glass only

told the story of those lucky enough to occupy the prized outer offices. “There was

all of this excitement and activity pushed up to the glass, but when you walked

into the individual floorspace, it was a

completely different atmosphere. Your

only way of trying to navigate through a

our build. Knowing what those original

that honoured the original building and

and utilized the building’s abundance of glass to open sightlines across the work

floors. “Now everyone has this beautiful view through the building. You can walk

through the building and see not just into the garden but beyond it.”

Gabbai, who had studied the Ford

Foundation building for a project while

in college, referenced as much of the

original space as he could for the redesign.

They looked behind the walls and floors

Everyone on the outside didn’t get to

an idea of the original palette of brass,

experience what they did.”

To inform the flow of the new space, Gabbai and his team went to the

Rockefeller Archive Centre in Sleepy

Hollow, New York to study the building’s

original blueprints.

offices and conference rooms act as gallery space for the Foundation’s

extensive art collection.

” We knew we needed to open our doors and bring the people in – all people. And to create a space that was truly accessible to honour the dignity of all people.”

in a real way.” The team removed many

of the barriers that segmented the space

typical workplace floor was the open doors

and offices that had these privileged views.

and the plain white walls of the interior

shielded from years of sun or wear to get mahogany, and leather, uncovering a tone

that they would come to refer to as “Ford Brown.” The new materials introduced

into the space reflected the original build.

The original Warren Platner and Ward

Bennett designed furniture was given new

life with the help of NYC’s top refinishers,

The last stage of the renovation to

be completed was the Foundation’s

dedicated art gallery that opened in

early 2019. The space serves as a rotating exhibition celebrating disparate voices

and upholding themes reflective of Ford’s mission statement. “It’s wonderful to

be a hub for social justice and to have the

incredible energy in the building day to

day,” says Bernstein. “In keeping with

the desire to make the building more open and inclusive, the creation of a

gallery shows how art elevates justice. Our world feels like it is in a constant state of

conflict, and with so many people giving in to hopelessness, we knew we must do what we can to give people a reason for

optimism. We knew we needed to open our doors and bring the people in – all people. And to create a space that was


But perhaps the most significant change

truly accessible to honour the dignity of all people.” re


ONE FOR THE BOOKS Reimagining Historic Libraries by graeme matichuk

photo: michael muraz


ide by side, Boston Public Library’s

1895 McKim building and 1972 Johnson Building stand as monuments to their

“the monumentality of a central space,” in his words, exterior granite from the same

quarry, and a copycat roof line. Respecting

vastly different eras. “There is a space, not

the McKim building’s heritage, he pur-

es between the old McKim palace and the

These elements are just some of the many

John Doherty remarked in 1986. “That way,

historic character.

bothering the other.”

In 2016, William Rawn Architects com-

Often we need a metaphorical two-and-a-half-inch gap between the old and the new to let each era breathe.

portunity to elevate its central branch to

readily discernible, two-and-a-half inchnew Johnson Building,” project engineer

either building can move a little without

posefully crafted an understated façade. pieces defining the Johnson Building’s

pleted a massive reimagine of the Johnson Building. The Library saw this as an op-

21st Century library grandeur. As the oldest library system and second-largest public library collection in the United States,

Boston Public Library has some responsi-

bility to lead innovation, and its reimagine

cal, it suggests a broader story of chal-

lenges in reimagining historic libraries designed by monumental architects.

Elements defining a building’s historic

significance might create challenges for

using a space forty years after it was built. But propelling a building too deeply into

another era might erase its history. Often

we need a metaphorical two-and-a-half-

inch gap between the old and the new to

let each era breathe.

The Johnson Building was built as an

addition onto its connected neighbour, the McKim building. Vocal opponents

have criticized the Johnson Building as “a graceless granite tomb,” “an old, gro-

tesque armory,” and, more recently, “a

fortress.” Philip Johnson considered his

addition onto the McKim building as “the

most difficult design problem in the Unit-

ed States.” It was no small feat to design

an addition that was complementary and not overwhelming, not too similar but

not drastically different, from an iconic,

historic building.

Johnson’s addition carried many of the

McKim building’s characteristics: a nine-

square grid with a central atrium to convey

The most transformative exterior change

actually ran in opposition to Johnson’s vi-

sion for the building. Where 2,000-pound

granite slabs once barricaded ground-lev-

el windows from Boylston Street to protect

the library from the sidewalk bustle,

windows facing the street now blur inte-

rior and exterior spaces into a continuous environment. Reed Hilderbrand, the

landscape architecture firm that reimag-

ined the Johnson Building, wrote that the

Library “now extends beyond the building

itself to shape the city’s public realm.” Boston Public Library’s head of major

projects considers this transformation

essential to the Library’s new era: “This was an inward-facing fortress, and now

it’s going to be the total opposite.”

Drawing the public into the Library from Boylston Street meant more than just

knocking down the granite slabs. The

interior spaces were long overdue for a

fresh coat of paint and a bright burst of

colour. With the recent renaissance in

library innovation, it was also a priority

to bring the Johnson Building up to 21st Century library standards.


While Doherty’s observation was techni-

would do just that.


photo: bruce t. martin photography

re The exterior granite of the Johnson Building at Boston Public Library was taken from the same quarry as its connected neighbour, the 1895 McKim building.

Daniel Coolige, the architect of the McKim

The Johnson Building’s reimagine draws

a Boston Globe interview in 1986 that the

space for collaboration. The shelves of

and expensive warehouse.” In fact, any

still vital, but they are not the sole occu-

article focuses on its extensive collections

the people, not a fortress for books.

Building’s 1980’s restoration, said during

Johnson Building is “a very handsome

mention of the Johnson Building in this

and reading rooms.

Part of the Johnson Building’s 2016

Within the first three levels, the design

team cleared away the original grey-and-

brown palette and applied a striking, sat-

urated colour scheme, injecting energy to

the dated building. The reimagined design included new children’s and teens’ areas,

a street-level cafe, a community learning centre equipped with modern technolo-


gies, a new lecture hall, and more.


The reimagined library is a plaza for the people, not a fortress for books.

reimagine included strengthening the connection between the McKim and

Johnson Buildings. LeMessurier structural engineers carved a 36-foot opening in the

McKim-Johnson dividing wall, an original masonry wall of the McKim building

supported by a granite foundation and

timber piles. The temporary framing to

support this endeavour balanced over

one million pounds, a feat perhaps only possible with today’s innovations in

people from the streets into a vibrant

books and multimedia and newspapers are

pants. The Johnson Building is a plaza for


ashington’s central library was

incomplete when it opened in 1972. At

least, that’s what architecture critic Wolf

Von Eckhardt wrote about Ludwig Mies

van der Rohe’s library design. “Mies would

not want it to be. He carefully designed his buildings as simple enclosures of space,

envelopes, if you will, for the life and

change within them.”

engineering. This connection, similar to

As the first public building named after

would further open the Johnson Building

the only realized library design by Mies,

the removal of the exterior granite slabs, to its surrounding environment.

civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.,

and the only Mies building in DC, the

re The Johnson Building’s original design was controversial, termed by opponents a “graceless granite tomb.”

photo: boston pictorial archive

Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK Jr.) Memorial Library holds a special place in American

architectural history.

During its design, however, so much of

Mies’ vision was lost due to budget con-

straints. His colleague, Jack Bowman, who completed the design after Mies’ early

death, remarked that they never solved

the confusing wayfinding, such as the hidden stairwells. The tan brick was supposed

to be veined green marble. But these

concessions, preservationists argue, are part of the historic designation because

they capture society at the time when the building was constructed.

In contrast to the Boston Public Library’s

Johnson Building, renovations to the MLK Jr. Memorial Library were modest due to

restrictions from its historic designation. Extensive research into Mies’s design

philosophies, including those he applied

to his library design, shows that he rarely

centred his design on the functional, for-

ward-thinking elements that characterize

libraries today. His philosophies largely

Far from a transformative reimagine,

the changes mostly added new spaces,

like a theatre and a rooftop garden, and

cleared sightlines for improved naviga-

photos: robert benson photography

re The windows of the Johnson Building have been opened to the street front, resignifying the building as an outward-facing public space.

tion through the Library. Interior spaces were reconfigured to seat people at the

windows, rather than lining the perimeter


focused on materials and form.

with stacks of books.



photo: robert benson photography




re Mies van der Rohe’s philosophy, which informed the design of the MLK Jr. Memorial Library, largely focused on materials and form.

Each of these changes was grounded in

the idea of the library as an urban centre.

Architects at Mecanoo called the Great

Hall “the beating heart of the library.”

With an energized Great Hall and a new cafe, the ground level would become a

public plaza for events and conversation.

Meanwhile, stairwells with translucent

entries and spacious pathways—no longer narrow brick towers—would draw visitors

to exciting venues on the upper levels.

photo: courtesy of dc public library, washingtoniana division

The fifth-floor addition of a rooftop

garden and performance theatre would

become the lookout point with views of

the cityscape.

A library is a living building... powerful, iconic buildings can be sensitively reimagined. Like the Johnson Building, the reimagine

design team for the MLK Jr. Memorial

Library aimed for a people-focused library. But they had to balance grand expecta-

tions with the limitations of their historic

status. Design teams for both of these

reimagine projects embarked on extensive research into Philip Johnson and Ludwig

Mies van der Rohe and the histories of

their respective libraries. The reimagined designs of the Johnson Building and the

MLK Jr. Memorial Library succeeded by

balancing the important historic elements

with the need to make these libraries

functional 50 years after they were first

designed, recognizing that a library is a

functional building for the people, not just

a work of art for history books.

Today’s public buildings are open, weaving their interior sightlines into the streets

and up to the sky, drawing the public inreimagine

doors and welcoming sunlight. Libraries in

the 21st Century have shunned the idea of a fortress. Instead, they are a public plaza of

illustration: mecanoo


learning and gathering. re

re New spaces were added to MLK Jr. Memorial Library, designed to serve as an urban


plaza, or “the beating heart of the library.”

render: mecanoo


GOING AGAINST THE GRAIN The Silo in Nordhavn is COBE’s beacon of old and new in Copenhagen’s North Harbour by shelley williamson | photography: rasmus hjortshøj

re The Silo’s towering presence is a reminder of the Nordhavn district’s industrial past, even as it ushers in a new era as an emerging neighbourhood.


hen Dan Stubbergaard feasted his eyes on a decom-

missioned grain silo in the harbour of Copenhagen, Denmark’s up-and-coming Nordhavn district, he didn’t see its messy avian inhabitants, graffiti-marred walls and drab exterior. Instead, what struck the founder and architect at Danish firm COBE was

the 17-storey building’s towering potential to pay homage to the area’s industrial past, while providing an innovative, new apartment-style housing option that had been missing from the Copenhagen landscape. A native of Copenhagen, Stubbergaard and his 13-year-old firm’s approach to architecture has included a considerable degree of social responsibility to his community, paired with innovative reimagine

approaches to architecture. So when he was asked to create a master plan for the transformation of Nordhavn, he welcomed the chance to preserve a sense of tradition while creating something new and unique.

“I want my grandkids and kids to be aware of the cultural history and life of the city, which is not present anymore in our big cities,” Stubbergaard says. “The whole idea is that there’s a cultural heritage of the industrial time that you can show to our grandkids, and the artifacts of a time that is not here anymore.”

“ There’s a cultural heritage of the industrial time that you can show to our grandkids, and the artifacts of a time that is not here anymore.” While working on the master plan for Nordhavn, it occurred to Stubbergaard the former storage vessel for large quantities of grain was just the artifact that could be modernized into a landmark space where people could live, dine and gather in the reimagined city district. He and his client, Klaus Kastbjerg, went to scope out the structure back in 2013, with the goal of revitalizing it into high-rise condominium suites sandwiched between a restaurant at the top and public gallery on the main floor.


re A galvanized steel façade wraps around the concrete exterior of the structure.

To that end, the decision was made to work with the existing

with the completely wonderful space and the potential of it,”

concrete silo, to modernize, stabilize, insulate and climate

says Stubbergaard of his first impressions of what has become

control within by freshening up the building’s façade with a new

The Silo. “We decided to run forward, and our client purchased

galvanized steel makeover. “The whole idea was that we keep

the building. It’s this kind of duality of saving the building in the

the existing building, but we give it a new ‘jacket’ to protect it.

master planning process and then finding a really good client of

Today you see a complete new piece of architecture with a modern

ours. It was not only about developing value, but we also really

façade that is protecting the building, insulating the building and

wanted to do something extraordinary.”

climatically optimizing the building. It’s a sustainable building

Enlisting the expertise of engineering partners Balslev and Wessberg, and contractor and client NRE Denmark, Stubbergaard

energy-wise, but it’s protecting the old concrete as well.” For the architect and his client, keeping as much of the existing

and his client wasted no time getting to work on the epic

building as possible was the better option for myriad reasons,

transformation. The post-industrial concrete structure was a

including leaving a smaller environmental footprint. “We cal-

blank canvas for Stubbergaard to create his vision, he explains.

culated that in The Silo we saved 5,621 tonnes of CO2 by keeping

“Here, everything was given to us. We had fantastic spaces, with eight-metre ceiling heights and concrete surfaces. It was an

it, rather than tearing it down and building a new structure,”

says Stubbergaard. “I strongly believe we should actually be

architectural gift to be able to create some housing (using a

much better at finding a repurpose for our existing buildings and

structure) which is not getting built anymore … to do something

optimizing them – rather than taking things down and building

different from the rest of the market.”

something new – if we want to ease the pressure on our planet.”


“We were completely stunned when we got inside the structure,






re Today, The Silo is vibrant with human activity. Residents inhabit the apartments while a gallery and rooftop restaurant draw in the public.

re Inside the tower, there are 42 open-concept, spacious and bright apartments, offering residents beautiful harbour views.

Challenges during the construction of The Silo’s new “jacket” included discovering a misalignment in the 50-year-old building’s original structure. “The main challenge is that we were working with an existing structure, and what we found out was that the building was actually double curved,” explains Stubbergaard. “The whole structure was actually bending, so it had a cantilever of nearly 14 centimetres. We had to adjust with the new façade in a unique way to the existing structure. That was a technical challenge.” The new skin was comprised of galvanized steel panels, modular balconies and new window frames, the latter of which were fastened from the exterior, to make the most of massive floorto-ceiling windows inside the apartment suites. “I call it Utzon’s trick. He (Jorn Utzon, the architect of Sydney Australia’s Opera House), always worked with these frameless windows, and I have always wanted to do this.” Inside, concrete was carved away to create 42 open-concept, spacious and natural light-filled apartments, each its own unique layout. The residences, which range in size from 106- to 401 m2, all feature impressive ceiling heights of eight metres, a benefit made possible by the building’s initial design as a storage


container for huge grain quantities. The steel cladding envelop-


ing of the building reflects the sunlight differently depending on the time of day, changing its appearance. “Some days it’s a golden building, other days it’s a cold blueish building, says Stubbergaard. “It’s actually very lively material.”

The Silo was completed in 2017, with residents now inhabiting the apartments and a gallery space on the main floor that’s open to the public. But perhaps the pièce

de résistance is the “floating box” that

houses a popular Nordic restaurant and viewing platform where

residents and tourists can take in a bird’s eye view of the city while grabbing a bite or a beverage. “We wanted to give an invitation to the residents of the city that it’s also accessible to the public,” says Stubbergaard. “Everyone can go to the gallery and experience the old concrete seating, and they can take the elevator up to the top of building and have this wonderful view of Copenhagen.” Also visible in the distance is Christiansholm, or Paper Island – which drew its colloquial title from its history of housing reams of paper used to print Danish newspapers until 2013 – another master-planned


“I strongly believe we should actually be much better at finding a repurpose for our existing buildings and optimizing them – rather than taking things down and building something new – if we want to ease the pressure on our planet.”


re Nordhavn’s redevelopment is expected to take 40-50 years to complete.

post-industrial development which COBE is undertaking in Copenhagen’s inner harbour. The artificial, 29,000 m2 island was

Stubbergaard. “It was a good business case for the client, and of

headquarters to Nordhavn. “We are actually sitting grounded in

course the unique architecture and interior spaces of the flats were

our own city plan, in our own emerging city district. We need to

something that there was a market for. I am hoping it’s pushing

do good here because we are looking at our buildings and urban

other developers to step out of what is the normal way or consen-

space every day, so it’s important that we are proud of it…It’s

sus way of developing housing.”

nice to bike to work every day and see change in this whole dis-

Building owner Klaus Kastbjerg, who also co-owns the restaurant atop The Silo, is reportedly pleased with the results of the building’s reimagining. While he and Stubbergaard knew there would be a spot in the real estate market for this far-from-cookie-cutter housing style made possible by the retired structure’s “bones,” they could not have dreamed just how popular it would be with buyers. Stubbergaard hopes the project will also spur conversation and challenge developers to similarly think outside of the box in their projects, and to consider the benefits to repurposing buildings versus building new. Love it or hate it, The Silo has garnered its share of attention, not to mention several architectural accolades, including Best Highrise, Best Renovation in Denmark and Best Building in Copenhagen for two years running. reimagine

or Copenhagen is very open to untraditional solutions,” says

home to COBE’s studio until last year, when the firm moved its

trict and to be a part of it.”


“What we learned is that the real estate market in Denmark

“ It’s this kind of duality of saving the building in the master planning process and then finding a really good client of ours. It was not only about developing value, but we also really wanted to do something extraordinary.” Stubbergaard also hopes his fellow architects will see The Silo and the Nordhavn development as an opportunity to explore alternatives when planning and designing living options. “What we want to do, as architects, is to push slightly the understanding that we can create buildings and architecture, which is actually creating a higher level of diversity in the way people live. This is one of ways we are stepping out of the traditional ways we do things.” The overall redevelopment of Nordhavn is expected to take 40 to 50 years to complete, and will be home to four million square metres of post-industrial development in Copenhagen’s harbour, providing residences for 40,000 people and workspace for another 40,000. re


How creativity, cooperation and crafts saved Edmonton’s historic Cromdale School by nikki wiart | photography: adam borman


re The Cromdale community strongly de-


sired to preserve the site’s green space in the development of the new East Edmonton Health Centre.


im Gendron has lived across from

the East Edmonton Health Centre in the city’s Cromdale neighbourhood for nine years. “I look out my front window, and I can see the building,” the 68-year-old

says. An active volunteer and member of the Parkdale-Cromdale Community League, Gendron is a regular visitor at the centre, which is not only where his doctor is located, but is also home to 20 different health services, including a public health clinic, a lab and mental health support. “All of those things in that location really are helpful. And the design, the way it’s presented, there’s a high standard met there,” Gendron adds. It’s not your typical health centre – in fact, it’s probably one of few, if any, medical reimagine

facilities in Canada attached to a historic schoolhouse, one built between the First and Second World Wars, and one of only a handful of buildings from this period still standing in Edmonton.


“Other than it being a very interesting cam-

Vivian Manasc, named partner at the firm,

pus on that corner, it fits in and serves the

and self-proclaimed “chief troublemak-

community well,” Gendron says.

er” on the East Edmonton Health Centre

But, just years before Gendron moved to

during the four-year-long process. Her

Cromdale, this seemingly non-invasive medical centre, nestled between Borden Park and Jane Salisbury Park, was the source of bitter controversy for the community. When Alberta Health Services, then Capital Health, announced it was to build a multi-million dollar health facility in 2005 on that site, community groups raised concerns about noise

project, was, in fact, the exact opposite role was making sure that if any trouble were to come up – whether that was from the community, the client, or within the firm itself – it was met with a design-based solution. Her first task? Helping Capital Health recover from a not-so-well received community consultation it had organized. “It was pretty much anything short of eggs

from ambulances, loss of green space

being thrown at people’s faces,” Manasc

and the schoolhouse, and an influx of

recalls. Following the town hall, she ap-

visitors bringing drug paraphernalia into

proached Capital Health about facilitating

their neighbourhood.

the next consultation, or workshop, as the

But, luckily for Capital Health, this type of

a solution at all, but allow the community

challenge was just what the architecture firm it had hired to design the new health centre, Manasc Isaac Architects Ltd, needed to spark creativity.

firm calls it. Her solution was not to give to come up with their own by giving them blank sheets of paper, markers and materials to collage.

Anyone who has attended a community

Not that it was an easy integration.

town hall or engagement session knows

Initially, Manasc Isaac needed permission

there are always one or two community

from Capital Health to even pursue the

members whose voices drown out the rest.

option of reimagining the schoolhouse

But, in a workshop like the ones facilitated

into a usable addition for the health centre,

by Manasc Isaac, something magical hap-

as this wasn’t in the original mandate

pens, Manasc says.

provided to the firm. “That’s where the

“People are at their own breakout tables having their conversations with their neighbours, and we facilitate, but we aren’t influencing those conversations. We’re

community perspective really helped us,” Manasc says. “It helped to make our case

firm and building science engineer on the project, says the integration of the school-

more persuasive.” With that approval, the team quickly com-

ends up feeling that way,” he says. “In any

pleted a feasibility study – and upon finding

is that they sort things out amongst

the building structurally sound, with, of

themselves” – much like the basic

course, the quirks that accompany a build-

concepts of cooperation and creativity that

ing built 80 years ago, was able to reimagine

exist at a kindergarten arts and crafts table,

the schoolhouse as part of the health centre

with the ever-watchful eye and assistance

for the same cost per square foot.

This idea, though so elementary in its ori-

In fact, Mike Turner, another partner at the

house was almost serendipitous. “Whether

just observers, and what’s interesting

of a teacher.

“ We’re just observers, and what’s interesting is that they sort things out amongst themselves”

“Other people would see it as a risk,” Heslop says. “How you see the world has a great

gin, allowed the quieter and more reserved

affect on how you proceed to do your work.

members of the Cromdale community to

And, if you’re afraid of something, the saf-

voice their suggestions and opinions in a

est thing is to get rid of it and start again.”

safe space, and in return, receive con-

you believe in serendipity or not, it often complicated program there are pieces of building that don’t necessarily need to be glommed onto the other part – sometimes there are some things that have different needs, hours, different design issues.” In the case of the schoolhouse, the basement is home to conference rooms, the first floor a Learning and Development Clinic and the third floor the Government of Alberta’s Child and Family Services department.

structive feedback from their neighbours and from the firm – such as the idea of an underground parking lot, which saved the green space on the lot. “At the end, you draw together the sum of all of the thinking and try and window through it to find the strongest commonalities,” says Derek Heslop, partner at the firm and project architect on the East Edmonton Health Centre. “If you can find the point that everybody agrees on, that’s a very strong starting point.” In this case, one of the overarching commonalities to come out of that first workshop was a desire to save the historic Cromdale School. Built in 1931, the picturesque red brick schoolhouse, surrounded by lawn and established trees, served as a school for the community until 1980. In the years following, the building housed the Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, services for at-risk youth, and for a time, the City of Edmonton Community Services Department.

re As the 80 year old building’s structure was sound, the design team calculated that the schoolhouse could be integrated into the Health Centre for the same cost per square foot.



“ By maintaining and, in many ways, restoring the historic Cromdale School and building an underground parking lot to save green space, Manasc Issac was successful in pleasing both the community and the client.” The architects designed a bridge to connect the old building and the new, and next to the schoolhouse is a cylindrical tower built specifically for elevators because, as with most old buildings, basic accessibility was not in its design. And, to make the link between the present and the past less jarring, Manasc Isaac chose brick for the new building that complimented the old, as well as copied the tall ceilings in the schoolhouse over into the new building. By maintaining and, in many ways, restoring the historic Cromdale School and building an underground parking lot to save green space, Manasc Issac was successful in pleasing both the community and the client. “Not only did [Manasc Isaac] provide a beautiful and functional design, they had the skill set and depth to help steer the project through the sensitivities of the community consultations,” said then Vice President of AHS, Marianne Stewart, upon completion of the project. As for the community’s initial concern of the centre bringing vulnerable people into the neighbourhood, Gendron says it actually offers valuable services to that population – people who would have existed there, facility or no. “It is a positive addition and certainly from the user sense of it, it hasn’t been any kind of magnet,” he says. “Plus it serves the rest of the community directly, me being one of those people.” All it took was a few sticky notes, markers and a willingness to listen to reimagine reimagine

an empty and deteriorating building, introduce valuable and diverse health services into the community, and open up green space for the residents of Cromdale

and beyond. re


A bridge structure connects the old building to the new. The round tower contains elevators, making the old school building accessible.



LEVELING UP From Carpark to Creative Hub

Peckham Levels transforms the interior floors of an underused London, UK parking garage by cheryl mahaffy | photography: tim crocker

re Peckham Levels is a temporary solution to the question of what will become of an 80s parking garage in London.


re hat can you do with a 353-space 1980s parking garage

that has outlived its original purpose? Southwark Council in

southeast London posed that challenge after its plan to demolish a largely vacant 1980s carpark (built to serve a supermarket that

The spaces that once held cars are now filled with small businesses and cultural spaces that benefit the community of Peckham.

soon closed) met with grassroots resistance. Adding to the challenge, the borough wanted a “meanwhile” project—a temporary use for the site while its long-term future is sorted out. Peckham Levels is the result. From the outside, the structure remains true to its origin. Inside, however, the stalls that once held cars (and later drug deals, sex for hire and people sleeping rough) provide affordable space for more than 100 independent businesses, accelerating the revitalization of the once-struggling Peckham neighbourhood.

listening local Carl Turner Architects and a social enterprise now called Make Shift won the competition to reimagine the empty levels within the carpark, in part by promising to involve and serve the surrounding community. True to that promise, they met early on with Bold Tendencies Community Interest Company, which for a decade has used the structure’s rooftop (an area excluded from the meanwhile project) for sculpture exhibits, music events and reimagine

a popular summertime bar. Those discussions confirmed a desire to leave the spiral ramp intact for easy transport of large sculptures and other hefty objects. The partners also consulted with Peckhamplex, an independent cinema located in the former grocery store, to ensure that intended uses would complement rather


photos and renders: carl turner architects

re Different levels attract different sorts of tenants, ranging woodworkers to breweries, and architects to therapists.

illustration: atelier hu and carl turner architects


from eateries to yoga studios,


re The former parking garage has been recognized as “one of London’s most fashionable places to hang out” and one of the capital’s “most successful

than compete. “It was really important to us that we didn’t

regeneration stories.”

displace anyone,” says Carl Turner Architects’ Paul O’Brien, who was intimately involved.

“ We really listen. We believe if we’re going to stop the adverse effects of gentrification, we need to build things that are useful and suitable to local people.”

Some intriguing ideas, such as building a swimming pool and importing earth for gardens, proved unworkable due to load limits and cost. But other input profoundly influenced the design. “Artists talked about how important natural light is,” Pryke says. “So all the units are located around the exterior, with large windows.” Lack of affordable space also surfaced as a concern. “Some spaces sound affordable per square metre, but what they

The partners also involved community leaders in a steering group, rented a nearby storefront to solicit ideas and sketches and reached out to local entrepreneurs who might be looking for space to grow. “Development companies often do what they call community engagement—drop-ins and meetings—but


then build what they already planned to do,” says Make Shift’s


Michael Pryke. “We really listen. We believe if we’re going to stop the adverse effects of gentrification, we need to build things that are useful and suitable to local people.”

don’t put on the glossy brochures is that you have to rent a lot of space,” Pryke says. To address that barrier, Peckham Levels offers low-cost co-working space, studios as small as a parking stall and 10 discounted units for local artists in residence. Listening paid off. Peckham Levels boasts an occupancy average of 96 per cent and a waiting list of 1,000 for its 80 available studios. What’s more, 65 per cent of occupants are local. “If you invest in what the community wants and can afford,” Pryke says, “you don’t have to ship people in.”

re The original wayfinding and footprints of the parking spaces were kept, a clever reminder of what the building used to be.

community connections • 75% of peckham levels members hail from peckham, 85% from the broader borough • 10 studios available for year-long lease at 65% discount for local creators in residence • members invest an average of one hour a week in positive local projects • reduced event space rental fees for community groups • dozens of public events each month, including games, silk screening, ceramics, darkroom printing, physical activity, music

the ‘meanwhile’ challenge Turning an elongated, open-air parking garage into a creative

The carpark’s low-hanging support beams (just 2.2 metres above

hub takes its own brand of creativity, O’Brien notes. “Whoever

slab) proved a major challenge. To make the ceilings seem higher,

designed the carpark would never have thought it would be used

dividing walls extend directly below the beams, providing a

this way.” Ramps take up significant space, and the six interior

headspace of 2.8 metres throughout much of each studio. That

floors are not only offset as in a split-level house but sloped to

approach results in footprints of one or more parking spaces,

the edges for drainage.

another nice nod to the original use of building.

team post-renovation. “So if your chair has wheels you do roll

Turning the carpark’s dearth of water, sanitation and power into an opportunity, architects clustered toilets, darkrooms and other

slightly down toward the windows.” The original wayfinding

uses that rely less on light in the interior, served by a new vertical

signs remain, he adds. “To me, that’s one of the triumphs of the

riser. Exposed ductwork runs beside and between beams, with air

design. You can forget you’re in a carpark and then see this mas-

exchange intakes built around the window system. “It was a very

sive arrow on the floor and suddenly remember.”

simple and clear servicing strategy, working with the layout of the floorplates,” O’Brien says.

The fact that it’s a meanwhile project—originally slated to last five years although extended to 15 just before opening—

Design loads impacted plans more than anticipated, O’Brien

demanded “a lot of value engineering,” O’Brien says. “We used

observes. “Yes, it’s a big concrete carpark, but cars are mostly

very robust, very simple, easily adaptable materials like OSB

full of air, as a structural engineer pointed out, and they generally

(oriented strand board) and chipboard. And nothing that isn’t

park over the beams. If you take that same 12 square metres and

necessary, which is our ethos anyway. The aesthetic is very much ‘carpark,’ although we might have done some of it differently with a longer lease.”

put 50 people dancing on it, that’s as much as twice the design


“All those features are still there,” says Pryke, who joined the

load. We had to move our event space and strengthen the beams with carbon fibre strips.”






re Peckham Levels boasts a vibrant synergy owed to its varied startups and small businesses working side by side.

pride of place Opened in December 2017, Peckham Levels won the New London Awards Meanwhile Category in 2018. A recent issue of Southwark magazine salutes it as “one of London’s most fashionable places to hang out” and among the capital’s “most successful regeneration stories.”

“ The name comes from wondering what could happen on the empty carpark levels. It was able to capture people’s imagination.” In all, it took £3 million GBP ($5.26 million CAD) to fit up 8,730 square metres of space, or £250 GBP ($613 CAD) per square metre, not including fit-out of tenant spaces. Major costs included weatherproofing, filling in the space between levels (largely with windows) and compartmentalizing high-risk areas such as kitchens and kiln rooms. The brick façade was left largely intact, significantly reducing material costs. It also helps that Southwark Council leased the interior levels rent-free in return for 25 per cent of profit once the project breaks even plus continued commitment to local training, employment and community involvement.


“It’s affordable. That’s the good thing,” O’Brien says. “There’s


always a lot of anxiety about development in general in London; as soon as an area is popular, there’s fear the people living there will be displaced. That’s happening to a certain extent in Peckham, but this project is looking to address that. It’s providing for people who are there already.”

Being in a carpark gives the project a distinct identity, O’Brien observes. “The name Peckham Levels comes from wondering what could happen on the empty carpark levels. It was able to capture people’s imagination.” Levels 5 and 6 attract public foot traffic with eateries, event space, a children’s play area and a yoga studio. The lower levels contain studios for woodworkers, a brewery/distillery, painters, architects, therapists, jewelry makers, musicians and more; a co-working space (The Ramp) that appeals to start-ups; and collaborative spaces for 3D printing, music, ceramics, screen printing, art and design. “It’s designed as pipeline space, to build your business and then move on,” O’Brien says. “It’s exciting to think about who might go through this space. Will one of them win the Turner prize, or write the Pulitzer winning novel, or record a Grammy-winning album?” Equally exciting, he adds, is the synergy that occurs as creative types work side by side with the aim of building up the surrounding community, as well as their own enterprises. “Members really want the project to fulfill its potential to the local community—they feel fiercely protective of that,” he says. “It’s about being really aware of how powerful those communities can be when people feel ownership of their space.” re

refit with purpose intoart, an art and design collective working inclusively with people with learning disabilities, seized the opportunity provided by peckham levels to custom design a studio five times its previous size, complete with an office and archival space. “we wanted to move to a space that housed a diverse range of creative practitioners,” says ella ritchie who co-founded intoart 20 years ago. “the inclusion of onsite screen-printing, ceramics and darkrooms was a big pull for us.” member artists welcome the “fantastic light” streaming into their corner suite as well as the space to do larger projects and the “holistic experience” provided by the mix of creative and social spaces onsite. the carpark’s characteristic low ceiling is a limitation, ritchie says, “but the concrete structure and aesthetic gives the building a unique character and identity.”


Spore Taste The winner of the Circular Construction Challenge invents regenerative mycelium building material By David DiCenzo Photography: Søren Jensen Rådgivende Ingeniørfirma

A world without waste. It’s an incredible ideal and a seemingly lofty goal to reach. But for dozens of design and construction firms in Denmark, the concept of building without amassing waste is a bold, new reality. Søren Jensen is one of those engineering companies undeterred by the notion of ‘thinking big’ and, in the past calendar year, an internal team has helped the organization achieve a massive success on the zero-waste front. Søren Jensen Consulting Engineers was one of 39 companies that submitted a project to the Circular Construction Challenge, a multi-phase contest designed to address the growing global problem of waste overload, mass consumption, and resource depletion. Søren Jensen’s project—From Waste to Biomaterial—was one of three winners chosen by the Danish philanthropic association Realdania, which launched the Challenge in August of 2018. That initial call for submissions provided the perfect opportunity for Søren Jensen to introduce its concept of mycelium building materials (an organic substance produced in nature all around the globe) and waste-based materials, which they had successfully utilized in the creation of an 7.5 square-metre pavilion used for a relay race event hosted by parcel giant DHL. The structure, which was displayed outdoors for about 90 days, was constructed with a timber frame and a spanning roof membrane comprised of hemp, coffee grounds from the office, and mycelium spores. And while it ultimately succumbed to a storm, the project was a resounding success.

Mycelium holds vast potential as a regenerative material concept.


“In Denmark, we have among the world’s most stringent demand for energy consumption in buildings but really no requirements regarding the environmental friendliness of the materials going into the buildings,” says Jon Wedersøe Strunge, a MSc in integrated energy design and Søren Jensen’s CCC project leader, who foresees a radical change on that front in the future.


“The Circular Construction Challenge had good timing as we had recently successfully developed our experimental event pavilion made from mycelium. That was our first job working with mycelium, an idea that originated in the conceptual development stage.

An organic substance, produced in nature across the globe, mycelium and waste-based materials inspired Søren Jensen’s entry for the Circular Construction Challenge.

material world

Søren Jensen’s experimental mycelium material was used to create a 7.5 m2 pavilion used for a relay race hosted by DHL.

The company employs 170 people among its interdisciplinary teams, working on new projects ranging from cultural buildings and laboratories to hospitals, and datacenters. The CCC fit was perfect for a group that considers the future of built environments to not just be circular, but also regenerative. Andreas Castberg, an MSc and PhD in building construction at Søren Jensen, says the idea of challenging the status quo in the industry is ingrained in the company’s philosophy. “We strive to define and create the buildings of the next generation,” says Castberg. “Regenerative buildings in which the invested financial, social, and environmental resources are regenerated during the building’s lifespan, and user-friendly buildings where the focus is on the individual’s experience of functionality, indoor climate, and ease of use. “The road to the next generation of buildings is paved with inspirational and artful engineering. We are engineers and we like to find solutions—both advanced and practical. Engineering art fulfils the building project’s potential by finding the right solutions whilst challenging the status quo. These solutions can, in a creative way, answer the social challenges without compromising the quality of the user’s experience or the project’s functionality.”

After a lengthy process, Søren Jensen, joined companies GENTRÆ (reused building materials in large-scale retail sale) and Næste (a shed built from previous generations’ waste) as the three winners chosen from a final group of six at the Building Green conference in Copenhagen last October. The winning submissions all differed in their approach but the common denominators among them were strong teams with ambitious goals, and clear steps for the development of prototypes. “All three winners have solutions that are clear in that they reduce the problem and enhance a solution,” says Realdania’s Simon KofodSvendsen. “They are also quite different in their innovation level and therefore in time-to-market. “Søren Jensen’s mycelium-based project is the most open-ended and complex project. It was chosen as one of the three winners because of the potential giant impact it could give the society in the long run.” According to the Global Waste Managment Conference website, there is 1.3 billion tonnes of waste generated around the globe on an annual basis. That figure is expected to rise to 2.2 billion tonnes by 2025. The construction industry is responsible for half of the annual waste created, which highlights the importance of initiatives like the Circular Construction that urges a dramatic shift in philosophy. The fact that the CCC received 39 submissions was uplifting to Kofod-Svendsen.


“The event pavilion is a yearly R&D experiment and last year we challenged ourselves to develop and test a new regenerative material concept.”


“It’s a clear sign that many Danish construction and design companies have the zero-waste agenda top of mind,” he says. “We have to remember that the challenge reward didn’t give promises on a specific construction project afterwards so the applicants were all eager just to have the time and support to work with their innovation. The Challenge was also perfectly timed with both a growing public and politic attention in Denmark on the climate and the resource problems that we face. “So it’s not just in the construction and design sector that zero-waste is an important theme­—it’s all over Danish society.” Kofod-Svendsen says Realdania was excited to see what solutions could arise from the Challenge and just how far they could go. It required support from competent groups. Realdania therefore partnered with organizations like the International Solid Waste Association, the Danish Knowledge Center for Circular Economy and Construction, and an international selection committee with expertise in circular economy, business development, and innovation processes. Collaboration has also been key for the individual companies who took part in the Challenge. Søren Jensen alone has partnered with 20 companies and universities on their project, dividing the tasks into three areas:

1. Developing Recipes (what growth protocol and which mycelium species and waste streams) and performing material testing (strength, fire, indoor climate, insulation)

2. Developing Design, prototypes and business models 3. Developing a Platform for further collaboration on bio- and circular materials in the building industry

Although the pavilion built with Søren Jensen’s mycelium material eventually succumbed to a storm, it stands as an important development in next-generation building materials.

Søren Jensen’s team of Wedersøe Strunge, Castberg (MSc and PhD in building construction), and Hanne Tine Ring Hansen (MSc and PhD in sustainable building design), along with the two other CCC winning teams, completed an innovation phase last spring and by the fall of 2019, the trio will have had access to potential buyers, investors, and influencers who will help push the projects forward. Eventual prototypes will be tested in Denmark, with multiple spin-off projects in the works. “As a part of this we strive to educate the building industry on regenerative building design,” says Castberg. “In August 2018 we unveiled our DHL pavilion that we grew ourselves. It was a playful experiment conducted in an uncontrolled environment. Our experiences with the pavilion have increased our interest in mycelium and waste-based building materials and we are now pursuing spin-off projects including further funding and getting the first products to market.” “We are excited to be working at the forefront of different engineering fields including regenerative buildings with the aim of creating engineering art,” adds Wedersøe Strunge, noting that working directly with product development on this scale is a new venture for Søren Jensen. “We see the project as a very good opportunity to let our development influence the industry.” re

The Circular Construction Challenge received 39 submissions, and aims to cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of waste generated around the globe annually.

For more about the Circular Construction Challenge:


newbern library | newbern, ala.

Adaptive Reuse (AdRu) can transform even the smallest tertiary Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Built in 1906, this former bank building was redesigned by Auburn University students to meet another, relatively simple community need: a new town library. AdRu projects don’t have to be overwhelmingly complex, but it pays to leverage local university talent and understand the needs of the surrounding market.


Adaptive reuse reimagines obsolete building stock and adapts the built world for an evolving industry by k. c. conway | photography: supplied by ccim institute

what’s trending

extracted from adaptive reuse: turning blight into bright, with gracious permission from ccim institute. the full report may be accessed at


he Birmingham Terminal Station in

Birmingham, Alabama, was built in 1909.

Modeled after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, it featured a majestic central dome and intricate glass and tilework. But when passenger rail traffic disappeared, so did the perceived need for the building. It was demolished in 1969. 700 miles north in Detroit, the Michigan

will make up a greater percentage of

the new drivers of adaptive reuse activity

investment activity than self-storage

Why are we seeing more AdRu projects in

We predict that adaptive reuse projects

and other select non-core property types by 2023. But the commercial real estate industry’s understanding of this property segment isn’t keeping up with this growth. This ultimately impedes investment and development.

this market cycle than in any other cycle since WWII? Factors such as the trend toward urbanism and millennial lifestyle choices, including a focus on real estate “experiences,” have been reported on for a decade or more. But other pressures deserve a closer look.

Central Station building still stands. Opened in 1913, the beautiful 18-storey property was designed by the team behind New York’s Grand Central Station. Like the Birmingham station, it thrived during the heyday of passenger rail and then became Station stood abandoned on the skyline as

re(defining) adaptive reuse

a symbol of Detroit’s own fall from grace.

to develop a recommended industry definition for adaptive reuse,

obsolete. For decades, Michigan Central

But in June 2018, Michigan Central Station was purchased by the Ford Motor Co. The company is expected to transform the building into a center of research on autonomous vehicles. Now, a piece of transportation history may inspire the future of transportation. The story of the Birmingham Terminal Station could have paralleled that of Michigan Central Station, but half a century ago buildings were seen as fungible assets. Today, adaptive reuse holds the promise of saving iconic real estate assets across U.S. metros where urban growth has resurfaced. But there are many other reasons for commercial real estate developers and investors to consider adaptive reuse­—including uncertainty about how an extended trade war could affect the price of new construction. Though it’s been garnering headlines for more than a decade, adaptive reuse (AdRu) is no longer just about repurposing beautiful historic properties in primary markets reimagine

to entice millennials. A variety of new


projects have surfaced in secondary and tertiary markets, where investors see AdRu as a driver of NOI and yield.

acre and ccim institute interviewed a broad cross section of industry participants, including developers, brokers, municipal government leaders, ccim instructors, counselors of real estate, lenders, and investors. utilizing their input, we determined that the following elements are necessary for a project to qualify as adaptive reuse: EXISTING STRUCTURE: While adaptive reuse projects may involve some level of new construction or an expansion/addition of space, they always start with an existing structure. FUNCTIONAL AND/OR ECONOMIC OBSOLESCENCE: All adaptive reuse projects commence with a property in a state of disrepair, high rate of vacancy, or with highest and best use in transition. In essence, the old use is no longer productive or economically viable, and the tenants have left. CHANGE OF USE: The project/property must involve a repurposing of a prior structure and use, not a mere re-tenanting with tenant improvements. This key point distinguishes our methodology from other industry research on AdRu. ECONOMIC VIABILITY: The new project/property must pass the ultimate test of highest and best use. Not only does the reuse need to be physically possible and legally permissible; it also has to be economically viable. Local government incentives are sometimes necessary to make a project economically viable due to the cost of assemblage, higher repurposing costs with a greater cost-overrun risk factor than new construction, and speculative lease-up risks.

cost and scarcity of land Unlike the suburbs where there has been a plentiful supply of cheap land to scrape and erect new structures, cities tend to have a variety of barriers and limited supply of undeveloped land. This forces developers to reconsider an existing use. And increasingly, the cost to repurpose an old or unoccupied property is cheaper than site acquisition, permitting and approval processes, and ground-up construction, given rising materials prices and scarce construction labor. This would only be exacerbated by an extended trade war. AdRu now competes effectively against new construction. It can be 15-20 percent cheaper and faster for projects without environmental issues in cities that have sufficiently evolved their zoning and

combating blight and replacing the tax base Unutilized structures are creating blight in markets across the U.S. And local governments are losing revenue from both declining sales and property taxes as retail stores close and prior growth industries such as financial services contract. How can cities replace lost sales and property tax revenue from closed stores and branch banks? Ironically, the solution is what local communities least understand and most resist: reusing a structure or property. It is a fear of the unknown and a lack of example that most often keeps local cities from permitting an AdRu project. In the coming years, local governments will invest more economic seed capital to germinate the bright that will eradicate the blight.

building codes to accommodate it. The wild card is the permitting, engineering, and approval costs for AdRu. These projects are difficult to pro forma and only defined after property acquisition and commitment to repurposing a structure. This is why communities like Tucson, Ariz., have started to proactively supplement their zoning ordinances and building codes to provide for some of the unique allowances needed to encourage AdRu activity as part of economic development.

reinvention of retail and remaking of the supply-chain Though headlines like “Retail Apocalypse” portend the demise of a sector, e-commerce and new logistics technologies are actually reinventing retail. This now affects everything from apparel to electronics, as well as autos and, more recently, groceries. This one pressure—the change in how we use retail space—is creating most of the space currently available for AdRu, followed by obsolete warehouses.

stapleton airport | denver

After Stapleton Airport ceased operations in the 1990s, most of the property was redeveloped as a residential and retail area. But as the rest of the airport disappeared, the old control tower remained –- eventually becoming an iconic part of the neighborhood skyline. The city approached Punch Bowl Social about transforming the property into a family-friendly entertainment space. But to add features such as a bowling alley, developers had to get creative. Plus, the height of the tower posed a challenge. Local officials collaborated to address zoning issues and ultimately allowed Punch Bowl Social to preserve the structure.


what’s holding


There are five primary challenges ahead for growth in AdRu activity.

This is perhaps the most urgent and chal-

adaptive reuse back?

collection and reporting of key metrics: lenging hurdle to overcome. Commercial real estate industry participants need to understand, for example, how AdRu activity impacts absorption and vacancy for uses it is displacing and transaction metrics, such as capitalization rates and internal rate of return.


an industry-recognized definition:

This would allow data on AdRu activity to be collected and segmented to facilitate the development of metrics, which in turn would help developers and capital sources in underwriting more investment.

Tackling this challenge is not dissimilar to what occurred in the early and mid-1990s to advance CMBS activity. Entities like Trepp and the respective rating agencies (Moody’s, S&P, Kroll, etc.) can be valuable partners in facing the metrics challenge, as access to the capital markets will ultimately be required for AdRu to attain its full potential. Leading national brokerages lack the economic incentive to monetize a large AdRu data research effort, and the leading data-gathering and market intelligence enterprises are behind the curve and lack a plan to monetize the research effort. In contrast, Dodge Pipeline, a leading construction project database, may have the historical data, credibility, and infrastructure to deliver on this need. ACRE is pursuing discussions with these entities to tackle this challenge.


liberty hotel | boston


The visionaries behind this project turned an old, run-down jail into a 298room luxury hotel. Built in 1851 in the shape of a cross, the Charles Street Jail housed prisoners until 1990. In addition to the designers and architects, this AdRu collaboration involved the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Boston Landmarks Commission, the National Park Service, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Together, they transformed this property from shank to swank.

the crosstown concourse | memphis, tenn. This is one of the most visionary adaptive reuse projects on the list. Built in 1927, the 1,500,000 ft2 former Sears facility was abandoned in 1993, creating blight in an iconic Southern city. Community groups and developers collaborated to plan and execute a $200 million renovation of the space, which was completed in early 2018. The Crosstown Concourse now features multifamily, office, and retail space, as well as Crosstown High School.



This may be why developers and investors

entities have mostly ignored AdRu because

local approval, permitting, and zoning processes and ordinances:

acceptance by institutional capital and investors: Life companies and other institutional

are not undertaking more AdRu projects. A

of their risk thresholds. But this will start

developer can perform all the appropriate

to change as the industry addresses the

due diligence and engineer a compelling

challenges of data collection and analysis,

as well as local collaboration. re

design, only to learn half-way into a project that an additional approval or zoning variance is required; such unforeseen events cause time delays and cost overruns that can disrupt construction schedules by months and increase project costs beyond the typical

birmingham rotary trail | birmingham, ala.

10-percent budget contingencies.

Once an eyesore for residents, the Birmingham Rotary Trail transformed the most marginal of lands, a vacant railroad cut, into a four-block pedestrian pathway. The Rotary Club of Birmingham partnered with the Freshwater Land Trust to divert storm water runoff from the site, which positively impacts the city’s water quality. The trail is part of a larger long-term project to connect pedestrian pathways throughout the county. Adaptive reuse projects like this one are becoming more common in secondary and tertiary markets.

These problems are typically caused by density and parking issues. More local governments and municipalities need to revisit their zoning ordinance and approval processes.


an industry-recognized methodology for underwriting and valuation:

the lucas | boston

Designed in 1874, Holy Trinity German Church was recently converted into a 33-unit luxury condominium building. The architects were able to maintain many of the original design elements despite the change of use. Most AdRu projects bring buildings up to 21st Century standards but also showcase the original design and passion that went into a building.

National banks are reluctant to take on large AdRu lending given the dependence on local market knowledge and the absence of recognized market data for underwriting. Methods must be developed to address elements such as going-con-

The 1.5-acre Grange is one of two vertical farms operated by Brooklyn Grange. This project illustrates that anyone can undertake the development of adaptive reuse — you just need a vision and capital. It also makes it clear that AdRu is linked to the triple bottom line, as it inherently promotes sustainability.

cern; market ratios for density, parking, and common areas that impact absorption, vacancy, and market rent; and acceptable LTV and DSCR underwriting metrics by property type. Today, AdRu projects are largely financed with equity capital. The developer is subject to local banks and regulators, which often use different classifi-


the grange vertical farm | brooklyn, n.y.

cations and methodologies.


The Coliseum closed down in 2018, upon completion of Edmonton’s new Ice District, opening up new opportunities for Northlands’ redevelopment.

A WHOLE NEW ARENA Edmonton’s Northlands resignifies itself as Agora Borealis by gloria alamrew | renders: designworks

public eye

he question of what to do with the

Northlands Coliseum is one that not many

people seem too keen to answer. Over the years, it has been called too ugly, too big, too brown, and myriad other indecorous names and, as such, it has largely been forgotten since its closing in 2018. But for one Edmonton architect, Ben Gardner, his morning read of the newspaper in December 2016 sparked an idea that set him and a growing team down a nearly three-year path of (re)imagination: to take the Coliseum’s already impressive size and transform it into something beautiful and still functional for Edmonton’s modern needs. The Northlands Coliseum was once home to Edmonton’s beloved and much

the easier option, but also wasteful of resources. In the process of developing his idea, Gardner reached out to the team at DesignWorks Engineering, and a few other friends in the design and development industry to put together a team that would develop a cohesive concept for the future of the Coliseum. Haydar Al Dahhan, founder of DesignWorks, led the illustration of the architectural concepts with his team. “We knew that the demolition would cost in the ballpark of 20 to 25 million. So why not take that money and create something amazing? The building’s structure is still in good condition and could easily last another 50-60 years, if not more. The Coliseum in Rome is still standing—why can’t ours?”

held in the cavernous building. Often used as a litmus test for how long you’ve

“ The Coliseum in Rome is still standing­—why can’t ours?”

there is no doubt that the Coliseum is an institution of Edmonton architecture and culture. But after it shuttered its doors last year when the new arena in the downtown Ice District was officially opened, it quickly became apparent that the question of what to do with the building and site was still an open question. Upon reading that the City was considering demolishing the structure, Gardner did what he knew best: he started drawing. He took the plans of the Coliseum and began drawing over them, searching for a solution hidden in the already existing bones. He quickly realized that the layout easily lent itself to a multi-family residential development. Indeed, converting coliseums into residences was not a new idea. Many similar buildings around the world - most notably the Colosseum in Rome - have been transformed from famed gladiator battlegrounds to comfortable and quiet mixed-use residential developments, complete with green spaces, shops, and community amenities. Demolishing the Coliseum was surely

struction. For an older neighbourhood like this, the chance to reimagine a structure like the Coliseum doesn’t come around often. With vast interior space, it almost begs to be utilized in a way that satisfies a need (more affordable housing), while contributing to a sustainable future — the adage that the greenest building in the world is the one that already exists, rings truer than ever. At a time where the climate crisis is at the forefront of all policy-making, why shouldn’t it also guide how we reimagine design? With severe wildfires being almost

inevitable every summer now, Agora Borealis has more than enough room to smoke-filled towns. Disaster relief is

something that architects need to think more of in the future, Gardner believes. “The sheer volume of air in [the Coliseum]

been in Edmonton and whether or not you remember it being called Skyreach Centre,

sive, stick-built, 50-year wood frame con-

safely shelter residents fleeing fire and

maligned Oilers. Many concerts, shows, and world-class sporting events were

The Coliseum is surrounded by inexpen-

When the City decided to issue a Request for Proposal to generate ideas on how to revitalize the building and surrounding site, Gardner’s concept went full steam ahead. A wholly-integrated vision that

could sustain people for a long time. Look at Hurricane Katrina, where did everyone go? The arena. A building that can provide disaster relief opportunities is incredibly important. It can literally be a refuge.”

would offer multiple levels of benefit to not only the surrounding neighbourhoods, but Edmonton in general, was developed

and thus, Agora

Borealis was born. Its

“ It is a truly unique—and truly Edmonton idea.”

name is a play on the Greek agora meaning

“gathering place,” and Borealis, of course, being a nod to our northern location, vis-

à-vis the northern lights natural phenom-

For Gardner, the social capital that Agora Borealis would provide was the clear

enon that Edmonton is sometimes lucky

selling point, and would be well-worth the

Borealis is imagined as a mixed-use facility

completely unique to Alberta, Canada and

housing, a hotel (that would be located in

communities: seniors, neighbourhood res-

enough to witness on a clear night. Agora

of the future. The site includes low income

the repurposed Coliseum itself), seniors housing and a community centre. The development would house a total of 700 families and guests and be supported by necessary community infrastructure, such as grocery stores, medical office buildings, shops, and the LRT.

financial cost. “It’s a world class concept, North America. Integrating all types of idents, and students. If done well, it could even help to put Edmonton on the design map. It’s just so outside anything else that anyone is doing. It is a truly unique—and truly Edmonton idea.”




” An interior corridor, connecting all areas of the larger site, with plenty of internal green space, is a feature that provides Edmontonians a space with spring and summer environments they could enjoy year-round.”

Agora Borealis also boasts a green, integrated design not only for the Coliseum building, but for the site as a whole. On the perimeter edge of the reimagined Coliseum’s roof, there is a band of solar panels that powers all lighting in the main common areas and parking lots, reducing operational costs. Important to a winter city like Edmonton, the site is usable even during the dead of winter. An interior corridor, connecting all areas of the larger site, with plenty of internal green space, is a feature that provides Edmontonians a space with spring and summer environments they could enjoy year-round.

Beyond just satisfying the need for greater urban density and the provision of muchneeded low-income and seniors housing, there is an undeniable sentimental factor behind the motivations to keep the Coliseum alive. In the reimagining of the Coliseum, the storied ice that witnessed four of the Oilers’ five Stanley Cup wins, would remain in miniature, for kids and community members alike to skate on and enjoy for generations to come. Gardner acknowledges that projects like this are ambitious and can seem daunting. “If people were able to reimagine structures like this in the Middle Ages, we can do it again—and we can do it here


in Edmonton.” re


Agora Borealis offers a fully integrated solution, repurposing the former arena as a mixed-use facility to benefit its community.


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THE BEAUTY OF RETROFIT Contents Š 2019 by Manasc Isaac. No part of this publication should be reproduced in print or on websites without written permission. Non-deliverable mail should be directed to: 10225 100 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta T5J 0A1

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