At the Living City Campus at Kortright in Woodbridge, Ontario, roughly 15 kilometres north of Toronto, an innovation park will soon rise to become a ground-breaking environmental demonstration, research and education centre for the Canadian construction industry.
Through a joint effort between the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a building science research and knowledge generation organization working to improve the built environment, the BRE Innovation Park will be a platform to demonstrate inventive solutions to achieve low carbon buildings and sustainable neighbourhood development, further accelerating the commercialization and adoption of green building products and services into the Canadian mainstream.
In addition, such innovations will be launched on a global scale through an existing network of BRE Innovation Parks in the U.S., South American, European and Asian markets.
Underground infrastructure of the seven-building, not-for-profit project will begin construction at the end of February, with work on the first building starting sometime next year. The project will develop around the existing Archetype Sustainable House, a demonstration home and living laboratory.
Along with BRE, TRCA will also collaborate with its municipal partners, building industry stakeholders and academic institutions to expand its existing demonstration, research, education and training programs at The Living City Campus where more than 40 research projects have already been completed.
Why build a BRE Innovation Park?
Recent provincial and federal policy changes have emphasized the urgent need for construction products and services to adapt to low carbon standards. The BRE Innovation Park will provide a ‘sandbox’ for all aspects of the low carbon built environment and act as a stepping stone for products at various stages of development, from prototypes and pre-commercialization to post-commercialization.
Besides offering a real world testing facility for the Canadian construction industry, the Park will also provide data on capital costs, skills gaps and carbon savings for stakeholders. Industry will have the opportunity to trial their ability to meet future policy targets prior to legislation being implemented.
The Park will also act as a centre for partnership brokering, giving industry, researchers, policymakers and the general public a location to interface, and a facility for new products and services to access supply chains. The Park will offer national and international outreach for those involved, and give visitors the opportunity to view multiple solutions to achieve low carbon buildings, communities and lifestyles.
Service offerings and programming will be prioritized to enable the necessary societal discussion to stimulate demand for innovative and cost-effective low carbon design solutions, products, technologies and systems.
There is also a significant business case for the acceleration of sustainable construction. The main source of raw material and energy use around the world is the construction of buildings, their use and the mechanisms to get them built. Reducing the impact on resources means lower energy in both construction and operation, less waste and efficient use of labour. Providing a low energy use, efficient building at the outset will make a huge difference to the cost of operating that building for its 50-year-plus life span. Saving money in operational costs frees up capital to spend on business growth and further innovation.
The BRE Innovation Park will provide ‘living’ laboratories for the testing, performance verification and evaluation of low carbon products and services. It will also provide interactive demonstrations of low carbon and sustainable buildings and community concepts. Some demonstrations will include distributed and smart energy systems, low impact construction, net zero and net positive energy buildings, net zero water consumption, indoor environmental quality and healthy interiors. TRCA’s Sustainable Technology Evaluation Program (STEP) will be overseeing research conducted at the Park and will provide research project design consultation, management and coordination for industry and academic partners.
The BRE Innovation Park has also been identified as a renewable energy and sustainable construction test site for the Vaughan International Commercialization Centre’s (VICC) Test City Network. According to City of Vaughan council minutes from last summer, the VICC is expected to “assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and localize international technologies to create and commercialize new, innovative products.” In addition, the VICC will assist local companies with the expertise required to modify or adapt their products for international export.
The Park will provide VICC members access to its living laboratories and the opportunity to demonstrate their renewable energy and sustainable construction technologies in a real-life setting. The VICC will also be significant in driving Vaughan’s economic growth through technological innovation, utilizing the region’s expertise to access local, national and international markets.
Along with assisting industry, the Park’s living laboratories will enrich the post-secondary community, providing infrastructure to test, demonstrate and pre-commercialize market-oriented projects born in university labs. Based on the existing model of the Archetype Sustainable House which was instrumented with more than 600 sensors, each structure within the Park will be fully equipped with provisions for building and product monitoring. The Park will bridge academia with industry, providing students with hands-on opportunities to put their research skills to work. The resulting technical papers and real-life research will also influence future building standards in Canada.
Each of the seven demonstration buildings within the Park will meet various themes and performance targets. Energy efficiency requirements will be set, at minimum,15 per cent above the Ontario Building Code and performance targets will be included for factors such as airtightness, low energy, renewable energy and water reuse. Material use will also be of major consideration, with the implementation of low impact and durable materials, as well as emphasis on recycled content and advanced materials. The combination of these aspects will ensure the resiliency and durability of the buildings, while also minimizing waste in the construction stage.
In addition to the demonstration buildings, the BRE Innovation Park will include low impact development measures such as bio-swales, pervious pavement and new habitats that support biodiversity, as well as public spaces and interactive exhibits.
Small-scale distributed energy production at a neighbourhood scale for thermal energy and electricity are also available. TRCA’s Sustainable Technologies Evaluation Program is currently engaged in the research and testing of solar and wind power generation systems with the Archetype Sustainable House as an in-situ laboratory.
Looking ahead, the BRE Innovation Park will explore expanding its demonstration activities to the full spectrum of building stock in satellite research projects. This would include retail, mixed-use, multi-residential housing, commercial and industrial buildings.
Glenn MacMillan is the Senior Manager of Water and Energy with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. He can be reached at [email protected]