Ask the Expert: mcCallumSather

2021 CAGBC Green Building Pioneer Award Winner

Member Profiles

mcCallumSather is the recipient of the Green Building Pioneer Award, sponsored by Enwave. Led by Joanne McCallum, the firm has delivered many municipalities’ first LEED-certified buildings as well as many high-profile projects that push the boundaries of sustainable and efficient design. Since establishing the firm in 1992, Joanne has delivered sustainable buildings and sites long before the practice became common place. McCallum is a founding member of the Ontario Association of Architects, a fellow of the RAIC, and a YWCA Board Member. Here’s what she had to say about her firm’s 2021 award.

Joanne McCallum

Tell us about a bit about the creation of mcCallumSather and how its stayed ahead of the curve with sustainable building design.

Growing up in a small town on Lake Huron, I was acutely aware of the escalating impacts of pollution and commercial fishing on a delicate aquatic ecosystem. This awareness led to a passion for understanding the environment, environmental systems and the impact of the built environment. Today I advise clients, mentor staff, engage in public speaking opportunities and actively participate in design charettes, sharing knowledge and facilitating integrated design processes that inform critical decision making throughout design.

Award Sponsor

Tell us about your early involvement with the establishment of the CaGBC and why you have continued to support the organization over the years.

mcCallumSather was established in 1996 with the clear goal of integrating sustainable design concepts into design thinking through an integrated design process. The firm was an early adaptor of designing energy efficient systems, promoting energy modeling through NRCAN assistance (CBIP funding) and joining key organizations such as the CaGBC. This all contributed to the evolution of the firm. We stayed ahead of the curve by attending and presenting at conferences, engaging in ongoing research, and by working with consultants who shared similar goals. They represent teams of professionals with a willingness to understand and mitigate risk, each brought their own expertise, and each expressed an excitement to continue learning from and challenging their ideas so that we could all continue growing.

Can you speak to a specific project you worked on that still elicits a strong measure of pride in terms of how innovative it was for its time.

The larger projects we design often receive all the press and accolades and so this may surprise some, but the building that felt really innovative at the time and one I am still proud of is the first green building for Scotiabank. It was a small project, a branch bank, but perhaps that is why it made it so impactful for us. We integrated many sustainable design concepts into the design, including: a high performance enclosure; external solar controls; it was designed with bolted connections so it could be easily deconstructed in the future; interior light shelves; indirect lighting systems; energy efficient HVAC; and locally sourced materials. I remember that project well because it seamlessly embedded many of the principles from the LEED certification systems.

Is there a single piece of advice you could give to a potential client interested in a sustainable new build of a large commercial or institutional building?

Engage in the integrated design process and participate in decision making with the full design team. When a client is in the room with the full consultant team from the outset of the project, we can all better identify risks and those risks can be more clearly articulated and shared amongst all parties. When our clients participate in these sessions, they come away from the process with a deeper understanding of and confidence in the decisions being made. It leads to choices that maximize design opportunities and system synergies, greater innovation and improved efficiency.

mcCallumSather was recently named Green Building Pioneer as part of the CaGBC Awards. What does it mean to your organization to be recognized in this way?

We are humbled by this award and recognize this honour as one of our greatest achievements. It validates our team’s focus, dedication and twenty-five years of hard work, designing and constructing buildings that truly embody sustainable design principles and tread more lightly on the earth.