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Integrated design and conception of a green building

(Montreal, Quebec, Canada)

The design project for the building slated to become Équiterre’s new head office, which will also be home to other similar organizations, will promote the use of a number of innovative techniques to optimize the architectural design process and act as an environmental education and development tool. By providing a meticulous, well-documented, transparent and widely publicized example of integrated design, this construction project aims to spur and facilitate the development of high-quality ecological architecture in Quebec (Canada).

From a methodological perspective, integrated design consists of simultaneously connecting and involving, from the initial phase to the completion of the design process, architectural designers (artists), technical designers (architects and engineers), and other designers and stakeholders (building occupants, simulation experts, landscapers and other technicians). The traditional methods that require these stakeholders to proceed sequentially also require them to adapt their solutions to earlier decisions made in a vacuum by their predecessors. Integrated design therefore allows a maximum number of variables to be taken into consideration from the initiation of the design and through the entire process. This approach, used widely in such domains as automobile and software design and the aerospace industry, is now recognized as an essential component in the design of green buildings, although it is still only rarely applied in building design in Canada. Among the reasons for the lag among Canadian and Quebec professionals in adopting this technique are the initial costs involved, the expected financial returns, the relative conservatism of our construction industry, and an irreconcilable separation between those who assume a building’s construction costs (developers) and those who assume its maintenance costs (owners). A project such as Équiterre has the ability to demonstrate the impact of this innovative approach through the work conducted by the researchers monitoring the project and the accompanying media coverage and systematic documentation.

On a technological level, the Équiterre team will be the first to use the computer-supported design collaboration laboratory at the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). To optimize the contribution of the design team and contribute to the advancement of knowledge of these digital design aids, the project designers will use the ÉTS laboratory for the first time. The support of the Foundation will reduce the risks associated with this inaugural use of the laboratory and will allow the project team to expand its use of the facility. The Foundation’s contribution will cover specific training activities for the Équiterre professionals involved and will fund the activities conducted by software experts. This approach is vital given the costs involved in an integrated design session. It is therefore important to reduce the risks of this innovative approach to using the laboratory and the integrated design method. The project will seek to establish a healthy balance between an experimental process based on leading-edge technology and the practical aspects associated with the high cost of professionals designing an actual building.

To disseminate information and generate interest in these innovative and promising tools, this project will also support the establishment of an educational installation for the future interpretation centre in the Équiterre green building. Équiterre believes strongly in the potential of these methodological and technological innovations for the construction industry and hopes to present them to the public in its green building interpretation centre. The interpretation centre will feature interactive educational installations, a materials library, a documentation centre, a projection room and a self-guided tour of the building’s interior and exterior. Short videos will be used to present the story behind certain architectural and environmental decisions. The images, which combine the detached perspective of the laboratory’s audio-visual archive system with the sensitive approach of film maker Hugo Latulipe, will follow the idea from its initial proposal in a design meeting through the necessary and multiple analyses and critiques to its ultimate realization in the green building itself. This concise, effective approach underscores the importance of taking a multidisciplinary approach to a decision making process that might at first glance seem to involve a single discipline.

Jean Gagnon © 2006 FDL