Meet Vivian Manasc
2021 CAGBC Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
CaGBC’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award winner is Vivian Manasc, co-founder of Reimagine (formerly Manasc Isaac. For the past 35 years, Vivian has led integrated sustainable design teams working on a wide variety of projects in Alberta and across Canada. Frequently working with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, Manasc’s collaborative approach has resulted in stand out buildings that reflect the spirit and needs of these communities.
Vivian’s trailblazing nature helped the firm achieve Alberta’s first LEED Certified building, and the first LEED Gold building in the Arctic. Her work beyond the firm has included serving as President of the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada and helping to launch the Canada Green Building Council. She was recognized for her leadership in green building with the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2017.
Tell us about how you became involved in sustainability and your role today.
We started by working with First Nations communities, which led us to integrated design, which led us to sustainable design. Our first official “Green Building project” was the Banff Town Hall. Before that, working across the Arctic, we had refined our understanding of extreme-climate high-performance architecture.
Today, I lead a large team that aims to be at the forefront of designing regenerative buildings and creating joyful journeys towards regenerative architecture.
Tell us about your early involvement with the establishment of the CaGBC and why you have continued to support the organization over the years.
It was important to create a community of like-minded professionals — and it was clear that in order to achieve sustainable buildings, we would have to engage the entire industry, from owners and policy-makers to designers, builders and manufacturers of building materials. CaGBC is that platform that cuts across the entire design and construction industry – and it is the only organization that is able to connect the entire industry for system change.
Thinking on your experience with green buildings, is there a project of which you are most proud, and if so, why?
There are many — it’s hard to chose just one! Mostly, I’m proud of our integrated design process that leads us to great projects over and over. Many of our buildings are still serving communities after 25 or 30 years — and I’m really proud of being able to go back and see buildings like the Yukon Visitor Centre [now the Museum of the Beringia] in Whitehorse, the Saddle Lake Junior / Senior High School and the St. John Ambulance Provincial Headquarters and see how well they have stood the test of time. I’m also really proud of the Net Zero and Net Zero-ready projects, and the buildings integrating PV in unusual ways — like the Red Deer Polytechnic Student Residence, that we are currently working on . I am also excited to see them shift the conversation about what’s possible.
Many of your projects have been developed in full partnership with Indigenous communities. Can you speak to how these experiences have influenced your work and your firm’s integrated design processes more broadly?
This is a big question, and I’ve written an entire book on it actually! Old Stories New Ways was published just over a year ago and explores how Indigenous knowhow have influenced our practice. The integrated design process that we use today in all our projects was developed in collaboration with our First Nations communities back in the 1980’s!
Reimagine is increasingly focusing on retrofitting and repurposing buildings. In external conversations are you noticing a shift in understanding the value of an existing building?
This is still a big challenge! While we are focusing the spotlight on existing buildings and creating a case for deep green retrofits, our Reimagine buildings are still a small portion of the work we are called on to do. We really see this as an emerging priority at this time of climate change but the economic models currently in use don’t necessarily support this yet. There is a need for more government policy in this area.
How do you think new advancements in heating and cooling will impact the integrated design processes of your future projects?
We are seeing a move to all-electric systems as we move to Net Zero and Net-Positive energy systems. People are expecting ever – higher levels of comfort in workplaces, educational and cultural spaces, and heating and cooling systems will need to be increasingly adaptable. Smarter controls are needed to make systems more responsive, and more adaptable to buildings with operable windows.
If you could give any advice to young builders looking to incorporate impactful sustainable building practices, what would it be?
Integrated design is important. Knowing your discipline well and knowing other disciplines well enough to have meaningful conversations is essential. In the world of design, Tim Brown of IDEO coined the term “T-Shaped People” which refers to the ability to have depth in a specific area or discipline and breadth across other disciplines that are influential, so that we can effectively understand how all of our work impacts the long future.
Thinking long term is also critical – the buildings we design and build today will be here for the next 100 years – and the choices we make have long-term ripple effects. Being mindful of that long horizon is an imperative to make good decisions today.