Walk through the bright red door of the Centre for Urban Ecology to discover a LEED Gold Certified model of sustainable design. Completed in 2007, this striking, two-storey glass building is home to the Humber Arboretum’s educational programs and special events. In 2010, the CUE won an Ontario Association of Architects Design Excellence Award.
The Centre for Urban Ecology is situated on the four cardinal points, with sides facing perfectly north, south, east, and west. On the upper level, large windows and simple but elegant design serve to highlight the natural world outside. On the lower level, educational displays and materials encourage kids to explore the habitats which can be found right outside the door.
The CUE’s vegetated green roof is mostly planted with native sedum growing in a soilless substrate. The substrate can absorb about 10 litres of water for every square metre, providing an effective way to collect and slow rainwater. If the roof becomes over-saturated, a connected underground cistern can hold up to 10,000 litres. This water is then used as a non-potable water source for toilets and for watering plants. Overflow from the cistern drains into the naturalized ponds in front of the Centre. Although the main green roof is not open to the public, a small demonstration roof made from the same materials can be viewed from the upper level.
The green roof also provides insulation, as do the earthen banks which hug two sides of the lower level. A slatted solar awning positioned in relation to the seasonal movements of the sun (a brise-soleil) shades the buildings’ windows from high summer sunlight but allows lower-slanting winter light inside. Energy efficient radiant floor heating provides additional heat in winter. In the summer, a computerized system compares indoor and outdoor temperatures and automatically opens windows if there is cooler air outside or if C02 levels are too high. An exhaust fan in the thermal chimney automatically turns on to vent out warmer air, and a partially-buried cement cylinder outside pulls in and cools air naturally.
Designed by Taylor Hazell Architects Ltd. with Architects Alliance, the 416 square metre Centre for Urban Ecology was built with sustainability at the forefront. In November 2007 the building was Gold Certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) Building Rating System. Along with the sustainable features themselves, LEED Certification also looks at the construction process. Environmental impacts of the construction of the Centre for Urban Ecology were reduced through such efforts as sourcing recycled and/or local materials whenever possible, taking steps to prevent soil erosion, and salvaging/recycling components of the previous Nature Centre. This included carefully removing everything from washroom doors and security keypads to mulching wood for use in the gardens.