Ask the Expert: Andrée Iffrig of DIRTT Environmental Solutions – winner of CaGBC Green Building Product of the Year for their Enzo system



Andrée Iffrig, Leader – Sustainability for DIRTT Environmental Solutions

Andrée Iffrig, Leader – Sustainability for DIRTT Environmental Solutions, is a LEED AP who is passionate about sustainable design. A Royal Architectural Institute of Canada medalist, she uses her design background to collaborate with others in building more sustainable communities. Andrée is the Leader of Sustainability at DIRTT Environmental Solutions and writer of the Inglewood Design Initiative, a sustainable community plan for an inner-city neighbourhood in Calgary, Alberta. She is also a co-founder of the Biomimicry Network in Alberta and Chair of the Advisory Committee, Green Building Technology Access Centre, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Click here to read more about the 2015 winning product and the runners' up.

1. Tell us about your career and how you came to be involved in the field of sustainability and green building.

There have been lots of twists and turns in my career. I trained as an architect but began my career in Indonesia working in the field of international development with the Ford Foundation and the country's largest NGO, The Institute for Development Studies. In Indonesia, I was involved in participatory development (the 1980s version of sustainability). Since then, I've written dozens of articles on sustainable design; been a caregiver for a seriously ill child; served as a wildlife ambassador for six years in Alberta Parks; and generally been an agent provocateur. I've been at DIRTT for five and a half years. Somehow all those disparate experiences prepared me for what I do today as a sustainability professional.

2. You work for DIRTT Environmental Solutions which recently won the first-ever CaGBC Green Building Product of the Year from CaGBC for the Enzo System. Tell us a bit more about the system and its sustainability features.

I think of Enzo as DIRTT on steroids. The whole assembly is based on the Design for Environment principle: Design for Disassembly (DfD). It's a kit of parts that adapts to changes over time: the tiles in the walls can be spruced up or completely changed out in moments; the walls can be disassembled, reassembled and repurposed. Power and data networks along with medical gasses or other technology can be easily integrated into the walls. Enzo takes these capabilities to a new level by reducing the size of the reveal between tiles. This is important for infection prevention purposes in healthcare settings. Enzo makes it possible to add or stack elements horizontally as well as vertically, allowing for design freedom. Equally important, the Enzo system is made of high quality materials that live up to all this change and are good for the life of the building.

3. What did it mean for DIRTT to be named CaGBC Green Building Product of the Year 2015?

We are chuffed! It's wonderful to have our VP of Product Development, Geoff Gosling, recognized for his innovation in industrial design. We hope this award will highlight why manufactured construction solutions are the answer for 21st century spaces. As green leaders in our sector of construction, we are pleased to be associated with a thought leader like the CaGBC.

4. You include among your professional interests resilient design and biomimicry. What is it about these forms of design that interests you? How can it benefit a project to consider these aspects of design?

My love of biomimicry started with my interpretive training as a wildlife ambassador in Alberta Parks. I could see how building principles such as long life-loose fit and connectivity were represented in the natural world, which is after all the ultimate source for sustainable design. Duplicating the genius of the natural environment in manmade systems is fertile ground for safer chemistries and buildings that reduce their environmental impacts.

My interest in resilient design is an outgrowth of biomimicry studies, and was further heightened by my trips to New Zealand. The city of Auckland is surrounded by sea on two sides. Between sea level rise and storm surges, it could become uninhabitable in the next 50 years. Studying adaptive urbanism with Kiwi urbanist Bernd Gundermann lit a fire under me. We need to take resilient responses more seriously in a world impacted by climate change.

5. Are there any green building projects that you've worked on/consulted for throughout your career that really stand out? What are a few of them and why?

Most of my work at DIRTT is on interiors, performing calculations and educating design professionals about how to specify for a sustainable interior using our extensive palette. I can't say I have one favorite. I do have a conviction however about what it means for a building to be green. My understanding is informed by a diversity of experience, especially living in Asia. I would choose Louis Kahn's masterpiece in Dacca, Bangladesh.

The capital complex is made of simple materials and was designed to operate without artificial cooling. It marries timeless design with sustainability: a building that was made in such a way that metals and minerals did not need to be extracted from the Earth's crust; its construction was not associated with extensive use of toxins; it did not pave over a pristine ecosystem; and its environment benefits occupants. Shiny new sustainable buildings can be exciting but there's nothing like a sublime modern masterpiece for inspiration. (Here is a link to an article I wrote some years ago).

6. What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about green design?

That it costs more. At DIRTT, we're constantly educating owners, contractors and design professionals about the financial case for green. Our assemblies are good for the life of the building. Installing a manufactured construction solution results in less wasted materials, a reduction in the time construction crews spend on site or commuting to it, and the possibility of recapturing all of the materials, systems and components at end of life. Everyone in the industry needs to consider performance and life cycle implications when making a decision to go green.

7. Where do you see the future of green products and materials headed?

Designers' familiarity with, and use of life cycle assessment and various environmental declarations is going to improve how product decisions get made in the future. However, we're still early days – and most EPDs can't be used for comparison purposes yet.

My hope is that advocates of various material standards and certifications will work with manufacturers to better understand how materials are chosen, and what impediments they face in sourcing healthy ones or those with lower embodied energy. This needs to be a collaborative effort if everyone in the industry is going to benefit.