Architect Jean Carroon on Sustainability, Heritage and Buildings

Jean Carroon spoke last Thursday evening at the NCC’s Urbanism Lab and she also did a short presentation to NCC staff during the afternoon the same day. Jean is a principal at Goody Clancy in Boston, an advocate for sustainability and heritage architecture, and the author of Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings. She opened her talk by saying there’s a perception that Canada is ahead of the US on the issues related to sustainability.

Jean says the conversation on sustainability and the built environment is changing (sort of). Resilience, well-being, bio mimicry, biophelia, and people habitat are the new buzzwords. The average architecture firm in the US is 10 people and Goody Clancy is about 60 people. Her firm doesn’t happen to do developer driven work, and she feels this is a benefit because of the longer service life demanded by institutional clients.

Jean works primarily on urban buildings that have heritage significance. She shared Bill Reed’s dimensions of regenerative design; a way of thinking about buildings that proposes they could contribute to the environment rather than simply do less “bad”. Jean walked the audience through some of the main contemporary trends in sustainability as she sees them.

Some familiar metrics for sustainability include LEED, BREEAM, Promise, CASBEE, Green Globes, GA TOOL, Energy Star, STARS, 2015 Enterprise Green Communities Criteria. Jean says she used to be a US Green Building Council (USGBC) skeptic, but has been won over as they have taken on the chemical industry.

Passive Haus is on the rise as a prevalent certification in the US, as is Living Building Challenge; a highly aspirational model. The Bullitt Centre in Seattle is one of the first buildings certified under the Living Building Challenge. A problem with this model is that it proposes every building should be net zero. Jean doesn’t understand this requirement; buildings should work together with each other. Not every building needs to generate it’s own power.

Net zero energy certification is another valuable model, but will require a lot of dependence on batteries, and forgets some key issues: how big is a building? How many people are served? How many buildings are meeting this independently and are co-located?

The 2030 Challenge is another model that is going gangbusters in the US. It started with energy as a focus, but is now really expanding the conversation on carbon, and has a lot of US Architecture firms joining the initiative. There’s a conventional wisdom that you must engage the broad marketplace in a basic conversation to move the debate forward in a meaningful way in order to succeed. This is what 2030 Challenge has done.

Material data is a new trend in sustainability. A lot of companies and architectural product manufacturers are now willing and able to do this.

The Well Building Standard is part of a new sustainability trend that takes human health into account. This system is compatible with LEED but focuses on human health. The premise is that humans are more productive in healthy environments.

Windows, for example, are a key component of sustainability in buildings, and for some reason, an emotional issue for building owners and architects. Jean is a big proponent of keeping heritage windows where possible; basically, a replacement window will always be replaced again at some point. Better to retain the existing windows.

Jean asked whether Canada is working on carbon footprint and buildings, and the answer is that yes, Canada is working on this, but is probably not as progressive on this subject as they should be. She talked about how packaging (plastic bottles, for example) should be the responsibility of the manufacturer. We as individuals in our culture have taken this problem on, but it should be the responsibility of Coca Cola, and other companies, rather than the consumer. 

Is carbon an issue that should be addressed at the material level? Should we pay for the environmental impact of the product? If we changed the economic system so we weren’t allowed to ‘trash’ other countries, then the actual cost of building materials, for example, would be very different. Economics drive all building decisions; today replacing windows is often less costly than repairing existing ones, but I think it’s a valid question whether this should really be the case.

For me one of the main points that Jean made is that costs of consumer goods and building products don’t really take their environmental impact into account. If our society and its regulators were to address this issue, we’d see a lot more progress toward appropriate environmental footprints for human activities.

What Is It About California?

There are certain places in this world that have real and special significance for an individual. For me California, even though it’s a huge state, is one of those places. Every time I visit, something inside me says this is a good place. My family is from there, both parents having grown up in Los Angeles. I spent a year in LA as a kid and grew up vacationing at my grand parents’ and with family there. The result is that while I haven’t lived in California as an adult, I do have a special relationship with that state.

This week it was announced that the California firm I worked with for a couple of years after finishing architecture school (at their Chicago office – long story), EHDD, recieved an AIA 25 Year Award for their Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

This high honour confirms the lasting impact that institution has had and the role its innovative approach to everything oceanographic has played. For example the institution is a world leader in sustainable fisheries and healthy oceans, and that innovation is expressed as architecture; in what was at the time a ground breaking adaptive reuse project. 

When they built the building the architects transformed derelict  cannery row into a place of education and inspiration becoming, in the words of the architectural jury “…a benchmark and an role model to aquariums everywhere.”
The type of innovation the aquarium typifies is definitely something I associate with California. It’s that famous ‘left coast mentality‘ that brought us Hewlett Packard (the family behind the Monterey Bay Aquarium), Disney, Tesla, and Apple. My great grandfather George T. Chapman was, in an interesting way, part of this culture of California innovation as general manager of the pioneering soy foods company Loma Linda Foods. Today soy foods are a multi billion dollar industry in the US.

EHDD, led by my former boss Marc L’Italien and others, continues that California style innovation it started at Montery, leading today as an innovator in sustainable architecture.
Images of Monterey Bay Aquarium are from Architecture. Photos by Bruce Damonte.   

Learning From Lansdowne

It’s summer and a lot of the retailers and restaurants that are slated to open at Ottawa’s long awaited Lansdowne redevelopment are now in business. I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time at Ottawa’s newest large scale urban development this weekend and some of the design ideas there work quite well while others aren’t as successful.

I went to a FIFA World Cup match there on Saturday and my family took me to Father’s Day brunch at Local, one of the new restaurants on the site. On the positive side, the place bustles when FIFA or the other sports teams that play there are on site. The public spaces are well outfitted with good quality materials and park furniture. Planters feature carefully designed plant selections. There was a farmer’s market on Sunday and the atmosphere it created was vibrant with vendors and shoppers bustling around. Architecturally, the wood ‘screen’ that faces the stadium along the canal is a well conceived piece that addresses the world heritage site canal in a sensitive way, that is, if one can ignore the recent addition of the giant ‘TD’ logo sign on that face of the building.

Some other parts of Lansdowne could have been done differently, though too, and I think a real learning opportunity presents itself here. Architecturally, with the exception of the stadium, none of the buildings really stand out. While here in Ottawa we excuse the banal by saying the budget wasn’t right or that Ottawa is a relatively small town, I think more care could have been taken and that probably the  design team could have been further diversified with some real attention given to select buildings. To be fair the two residential towers on site aren’t done yet, so it remains to be seen whether they will relieve the design boredom one experiences on parts of the site. 

Some of the public spaces seem to lack vocation, especially on the east side of the project. It seems that more buildings might have helped shape some of those spaces around the playground and the heritage buildings.  Perhaps an opportunity will present itself in the future to reconsider this side of the site. It was a pretty warm weekend and there was a noticable lack of shade around the playground. Hopefully as trees mature on the site, this will improve. 

Retail streets on site seem hampered somewhat by the black tinted glass that the architects have selected for most of the project; its very hard to see into shops from the outside. The retail mix doesn’t help much; its very chain oriented with anchors like Whole Foods, Sporting Life, and Winners.

While it’s hard to say today whether or not in totality Lansdowne is successful, because the residential part of the development isn’t complete and the retail component isn’t yet fully online, there’s a lot that is now evident and while it seems the project is mostly going to be successful, some components could definitely have been done better. 

Photos taken by the author.


Drake Devonshire Delivers, But Sustainability Seems Elusive

A good friend turned forty recently and it was an opportunity for a get together. With the guest list incl

uding friends and family from both Ottawa and Toronto, my wife suggested the Drake’s new-ish outpost in Prince Edward County as the venue. She had been there recently with a friend, and it seemed like the perfect place for this  group. Turns out she was right. As usual.

All eleven guests booked into the hotel and plans were made. The Drake is a fantastic addition to the county. Hotelier Jeff Sober has carefully curated this outpost of his Queen West Toronto brand with the help of what he terms an ‘army’ of creatives. The team notably included designers +tong tong and architects ERA. The building that was the former Wellington Iron Foundry has been painstakingly converted into a charming and quirky hotel full of art and vintage curios.

Having been a resident of Queen West for years, the Drake is a fixture there and forms part of the social ‘glue’ of that neighbourhood with its regular events, focus on art, and as a place to eat whether it’s brunch or a nice dinner. Having spent some time there and observing the comings and goings, it seems that the Drake Devonshire is set to become that for Prince Edward County, both as an outpost for urbanites from cities in Ontario and as the nicest place to eat dinner or brunch in the county. 

Of course given the lens of this blog we have to point out that despite what is largely an excellent approach in renovating this heritage building, Mr. Sober and his design team seem to have spent precious little energy on sustainability issues and especially

given this sensitive site on the Lake Ontario shoreline. If our readers have other information about this we’d love to hear it. 

Photos from the Globe and Mail and Azure Magazine.

DC Public Library Chooses One Storey Addition

The DC Public Library has chosen a conservative approach in adding on to their Mies designed library. Having reviewed three story and one story options designed by their architects, Dutch firm Mecanoo and local architects Martinez Johnson their decision was that the three story mixed use addition provided only marginal value.

They had presented the proposal to the city’s formidable Historic Preservation Review Board for information in advance of coming to this conclusion. Here at we’re looking forward to hearing that their renovation will be exemplary fro a sustainability point of view.


Palm Springs Modernism’s Lasting Influence

It’s amazing how much currency the work of the modernist architects in Palm Springs has today, especially in the simplicity and elegance that their work embodies. Their designs continue to be a strong reference point for today’s best architects.

Over the holidays I had the opportunity to tour some of the most iconic of the mid century modernists’ work in Palm Springs, California. I was immediately struck by the ingenuity of the designers that worked here, creating what is know today as desert modernism.

The Kauffman house was the one I most wanted to see, and we started our tour there. Richard Neutra’s unique material choices and the unique detailing and massing make this one a stand out.

Another of the buildings that really made an impression is the Spartan but elegant Wexler house. Designed by the architect for himself, it is modest at 1500 square feet and was built for $10/sf at the time. A touchstone for ‘design on a dime’.

Other stops on our tour included Raymond Loewy’s house, designed for the famed industrial designer and Frank Sinatra’s house which is apparently available for rent. Bob Hope’s house is an impressive beetle like structure on a hill, but hard to get close to.

We had booked our tour with Trevor O’Donnell of PS Architecture Tours, but unfortunately he had to cancel due to illness. He recommended the Palm Springs Modern App which we used and was beautifully well organized with an easy to use map and photos of and videos about many of the houses. I’d love to do Trevor’s tour another time, or perhaps Michael Stern’s, another well qualified guide.

We ended our tour with lunch at the Ace Hotel, a hip place for good food and people watching, affirming that Palm Springs isn’t only for the aged of spirit.








Wexler House. Photo by the author.

Wexler House. Photo by the author.

Wexler house. Photo from Julius Shulman: Palm Springs.

Wexler house. Photo from Julius Shulman: Palm Springs.

Alexander Steel house by Donald Wexler, 1964. Photo from Julius Shulman: Palm Springs.

Alexander Steel house by Donald Wexler, 1964. Photo from Julius Shulman: Palm Springs.

Bob Hope house by John Lautner, 1979. Photo from Julius Shulman; Palm Springs.

Bob Hope house by John Lautner, 1979. Photo from Julius Shulman; Palm Springs.

Kaufmann House by Richard Neurtra 1946. Photo from Julius Shulman: Palm Springs.

Kaufmann House by Richard Neurtra 1946. Photo from Julius Shulman: Palm Springs.



Bridgepoint Active Healthcare Wins Brownie Award

Bridgepoint has won the Canadian Urban Institute’s ‘Brownie’ Award for brownfield redevelopment in the ‘ REBUILD Excellence in Project Development: Building Scale’ category.

The project team which included the editor of this blog and well known firms Stantec Architecture / KPMB Architects, HDR Architecture / Diamond Schmitt Architects was cited by the jury for the way it “… successfully integrates a former burial ground, a federal jail and a former isolation hospital to create a new community hospital that provides high quality visual and physical access to enhanced public realm.”

Bridgepoint is a LEED Registered building.

Bridgepoint Active Healthcare Receives Best of Canada Interiors Award

This new Toronto health care facility continues to attract attention from design juries and press alike. Canadian Interiors Magazine‘s jurors praised the project for features promoting recovery including a calming colour and materials palette, quiet meditative spaces.

Having personally participated as a member of the design team which included architects DSAI, HDR, KPMB, and Stantech, it is an honour to have been involved with this exemplary health care project where the interior was conceived of as a tool for enabling patients to recover and leave the facility as soon as possible.



Bridgepoint is a LEED NC Registered project.

Berlin’s Stunning Pool Proposal

Picture, if you will, a new 750 m long swimming facility in the river at the heart of Germany’s capital, Berlin, alongside its famous museum island, a UNESCO World heritage site. This project called Flussbad is a bold public space proposal, reminiscent of Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York that will greatly enhance the public realm in the German city.


Great Piece on Habitat 67

DeZeen is doing an excellent series on misunderstood and widely maligned Brutalist Architecture. Particularly interesting for the time were ideas of combining housing typologies (garden apartment and high rise), and of modularity at Habitat 67. Shortcomings of the project include its huge number of exposed building faces that make it costly to heat, and the fact that the site is completely non-urban and separated from the adjacent city. Dezeen’s discussion of Moshe Safdie’s seminal Habitat 67 is not to be missed.

IMG_0361.PNG Believe there’s a question to be asked about whether this building type could be built today with appropriate sustainability concepts and contemporary building technology.