LEED Spotlight: Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium in Montreal earns LEED Platinum

The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium is a part of Space for Life program, which includes on its site the Biodôme, Insectarium and Botanical Garden. These four prestigious institutions in the City of Montreal form the largest natural sciences complex in Canada. We spoke to Pierre Lacombe, Director of the Planetarium, about why they chose to certify with LEED, and the positive impacts on visitors and staff alike.

 

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, Exterior Shot. Credit: Espace pour la vie (Raymond Jalbert)

Bringing space down to earth, in a sustainable way

The quest for a new Planetarium in Montreal began in 2008, when the 'Space for Life' program, created by the City of Montreal, launched an international architectural call for the design and construction of the building. Among the basic criteria that had to be met, participants were asked to consider something bold and fresh with a design that would mimic the nature it displays.

The result was the recently certified LEED Platinum Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, which stands as a strong landmark for Montreal. With its two distinctive cones pointed toward the sky (two telescopes scanning the universe), it offers visitors an immersive experience. The first cone houses a space for scientific experiment, the second a theater to provide visitors with an emotional odyssey through space and time. This permanent exhibit provides a fun and interactive focus on the search for life outside of Earth.

LEED certification supports Space for Life mission


 

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, Entrance.
Credit: Espace pour la vie (Raymond Jalbert)

The mission of Space for Life is this: through its dissemination, conservation, education and research, Space for Life supports and encourages humans to live with and support nature. This mission is also furthered through new construction or renovation projects in the City of Montreal, where they are aiming for the highest energy efficiency standards.

LEED certification gave the Planetarium a solid foundation on which to build this mission, as it effects a multitude of components (energy, ventilation, water harvesting, brightness, welfare of occupants, etc.), and allowed for an all-around more efficient building. This choice also met with Montréal's policy on sustainable development for municipal buildings.

The human impact

The benefits that this certification has brought to the City of Montreal and the Space for Life program include providing a brighter, more inviting space for visitors and on-site staff. The brighter space has had a particularly positive impact on visitors, who often express their enthusiasm while walking through the building.

A significant reduction of greenhouse gases was possible with the use of geothermal energy and natural ventilation, which also had a positive impact on the VOC management and control of sources of pollutants. A MERV-13 fine filtration was applied to the fresh air, and a MERV 9-fine filtration for the recirculation sub-systems - all of this contributing to fresher, cleaner air for visitors and staff.

Additionally, almost all light fixtures used to illuminate the building and outer landscaping are equipped with LED lamps. These fixtures are of the "full cutoff" (light beam directed downwards only) or completely oriented towards the ground to minimize light pollution. This was paired with lighting sources that contain little or no mercury.

Having met with employees many times since the project was completed, Pierre says "We've heard from them on numerous occasions that they are very happy with the space, and feel that the quality of the work and its positive impact on the environment, including its design features, are a real highlight to working in the space. In addition, compared to the old Planetarium, they have been given access to a locker room and showers which encourages health and fitness."

Lastly, in terms of heating and cooling for the building, a cooled water loop transfers cool in summer and heat in winter. In summer, the heat used to perform the dehumidification cycles is recovered 100 per cent by condenser cooling. Using the energy model simulation, the Planetarium surpasses the economic performance of a 90.1-1999 ASHRAE reference building, with 47.9 per cent regulated energy and reaches 7 points out of a possible 10 on the LEED checklist.

Additional sustainability features round out Platinum certification


 

Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, Interior.
Credit: Espace pour la vie (Raymond Jalbert)

Water reduction was another big part of the strategy to lessen the environmental impact of the building. The strategy involved a greywater system which is fed into a tank for the use of scientific devices in the Planetarium. Rainwater is collected in retention basins and used for the partial irrigation of landscaping; a strategy that reduces municipal sewage dump by 60 per cent, and has reduced potable water consumption by 50 per cent. The landscaping also includes plants resistant to drought, and a vegetated roof surface to reduce the heat island effect.

During construction, special attention was also paid to the recovery of materials. More than 75 per cent of existing structures were recovered. Thus, some 2,630,200 kg of concrete was broken (1143 m3) and recycled. This construction waste management plan led to an 85 per cent re-use of material. The majority of demolition concrete was also used as backfill. Additionally, the surplus and reinforcing steel were transported to recycling centers.

Project team

Building owner/sponsor of the project: City of Montreal / Space for Life
Architect: Cardin Ramirez Julien + Ædifica
LEED Consultant: EXP services inc.
Mechanical Engineer: Dupras Ledoux Inc.
Electrical Engineer: Dupras Ledoux Inc.
Engineer: SNC Lavalin structure
Landscape Architect: Fauteux and Associates Landscape Architects
Project Manager: City of Montreal
Contractor/manufacturer: Decarel Group inc.
Responsible for commissioning: City of Montreal and EXP services inc