August 2015
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Photo of exterior of Bridgepoint - Don Jail of new and heritage architecture

Of Historical Significance...
The decision to restore a heritage building can present both challenges and opportunities.

Some developers may view demolition as their most practical option, but restoring a heritage building can also be considered the ultimate in reduce-reuse-recycle sustainability. Updating a heritage structure to current building codes and improved energy efficiency, however, requires an integrated team that can bring effective solutions to the table early in design...
Q&A with Smith + Andersen team members
Smith and Andersen team members group photo of Simon Aspinwall, Langdon Baker, Rafael Correa and Dan Curly
(From left to right)
Dan Curley Associate Principal - Mechanical • Simon Aspinwall Principal - Electrical • 
Rafael Correa 
Manager - Lighting Langdon Baker Associate Principal - Electrical

What current technologies are best suited for heritage building retrofit?

Dan: Because lack of space for mechanical systems is a typical retrofit constraint, distributed and decoupled HVAC systems are good choices for these projects. One particular decoupled system, which S+A have applied successfully in several retrofits, is variable volume refrigeration (VRF). This system proved extraordinarily effective for the historic boarding house at Upper Canada College and yet took nothing away from the unique character of the building. And a future phase will be on a geothermal system for even greater energy efficiency.

What are some additional mechanical or electrical system constraints you may face with a retrofit?

Simon:  We're always reminded that, many years ago, “ventilation” meant opening a window – and lighting was an afterthought! So a key challenge is finding clever and subtle ways to fit systems and lighting into buildings for which they were never planned.

Dan:  In the 100-year-old heritage wing of Toronto's MaRS Discovery District, both humidification and insulation were required. However, adding them would leave the existing façade cold in the winter and potentially cause humid air to freeze and damage the heritage brickwork. The solution: an interior double wall with a sprayed on vapour barrier and heating integrated into the cavity space. That way, the original façade experiences the same conditions it has faced for the last hundred years, and will face for the next hundred.

How does a “heritage” project differ from retrofitting a building with less historical significance?

Simon: While many of the issues we face are similar, “heritage” comes with a twist that limits what changes are possible to the architecture, externally and/or internally. That's why collaboration is crucial to the team successfully identifying building system requirements early on and then working together to find ways to integrate those systems without affecting the historic character of the building. It takes considerable coordination to strategically place components like louvres in order to keep them out of sight, or install fire alarms and sprinklers.

Why does S+A place such an importance on lighting for these types of buildings?

Rafael: One of the interesting aspects of lighting designs for heritage buildings is finding creative ways to highlight certain architectural features and increase overall energy efficiency while not introducing too much of a “modern” look. For example, S+A achieved a dramatic effect by adding multiple architectural lighting solutions to the Old Don Jail rotunda area, and discretely locate the luminaires within the heritage elements.

What about incorporating modern security technologies into historical buildings?

Langdon: The challenges of integrating security technologies into historic buildings are similar to those of installing lighting or HVAC. That means careful studies and planning of cabling system distribution, selecting unobtrusive devices, and using modern wireless distribution technologies to minimize alterations to the structure.

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