Ask the Expert: Architect Michael Leckman talks about sustainable building, and the recently opened Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence (ACCE)

When Algonquin College decided to expand its construction and building design program, they thought about the future of the building industry for their graduates and decided to build to LEED standards. The result was the Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence (ACCE), which opened in September 2011, as part of their Ottawa campus and is targeting LEED Platinum Certification.

The project was a large undertaking, which is why Algonquin needed some expert advice and project leaders. This is where Michael Leckman, a Principal at Diamond and Schmitt Architects was instrumental. Having previously worked on the Evergreen Brick Works project in Toronto, he was able to provide some valuable insight and expertise on the inner-workings of building sustainably.

We asked Michael some questions about what it means to build with a vision of sustainability, and why everyone should take notice of the direction the industry is headed.

Could you briefly explain the ACCE, and what you role was in its creation?

Algonquin College wanted to unite its expanding construction and building design program under the same roof. With great foresight, they insisted this be a green roof and that the building be exemplary of sustainable design practices. Diamond Schmitt Architects in joint venture with Edward J Cuhaci and Associates Architects took up the challenge and I led the charge.

What are some of the key features of the building/your favourite features of the building?

I particularly like how ACCE blends building and landscape. The plazas, garden spaces, undulating green roof, and bio-filter wall form a single system of connected outdoor and indoor spaces and take the form of a 6,000m2 vegetative “ribbon”. Each element enriches student experience, enhances bio-diversity, and uses natural processes to reduce storm water run-off, energy consumption, urban heat islands, and to cleanse the indoor air. It’s a powerful symbol for what this building wants to achieve – and to convey.

Why do you think it’s important for educational institutions (and other major buildings for that matter) to consider building green?

Buildings, especially those with a public function, can serve as excellent ambassadors for sustainable design. This is exceptionally true in this case given that the students will go on to become leaders in construction and building design. I can’t think of a more appropriate context in which to showcase how a green building works and to explain the design decisions we made. This information is readily available to students and the public in exhibits and real-time displays that monitor the building’s systems.

What, in your opinion, is the number one thing that an architect should consider when beginning a green building project (especially those on a large scale like this one)?

Go back to first principles. Carefully consider the site and the context. Where is the sun going to strike? How do you want activities within to correspond with the outdoors? Going green allows you to make virtues out of necessities. Populate that green roof with programming, as we have done at Algonquin with a rooftop amphitheatre, for example.

Do you think green building is (or should be) an achievable or attainable goal for those involved in the building industry?

I think it’s rapidly becoming essential that everyone involved in the building trades gain a solid understanding of environmentally sustainable practices in their field. This is the future and it’s a growth industry, so might as well get on board now.