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Benefits when building with natural materials

 

Farm to Building

Several years ago, I worked in some of Toronto’s most innovative kitchens. Certainly, in my youth I was captivated by the culinary arts and have since wondered how it informed my interest and subsequent career in architecture. The past year has revealed to me an obvious thread: the transformation of materials.

In both cuisine and architecture ingredients are transformed. In both professions there is an understanding about materials used   where they come from, how they can be transformed, and how they must be appreciated. There are parallels between sustainable architecture and sustainable food.

Where materials come from: local or organic?

Farm-to-table is a social movement with which many are all familiar, characterized as serving local food through direct acquisition from the producer, incorporating food traceability. There’s a strong environmental case for food traceability.

Few materials are created equal, and when it comes to food, “food miles” actually make up just a small portion of an ingredient’s carbon footprint – just 11% according to the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). How the food grows comprises roughly 83% of its carbon footprint. To summarize the DSF’s research, the ideal choice seems to be food that is organically (responsibly) grown, and the benefit of local ingredients is simply a bonus.

The same may be true for building materials; let’s look at wood as an example. Wood is a fantastic material. It is renewable, can be sourced sustainably, and actually sequesters carbon. But not all wood is as environmentally-friendly as you may think. If sustainability is important to you look for wood products with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. FSC is an indication that the wood has met stringent harvesting and environmental standards. It prohibits illegal logging, forest degradation, and deforestation in protected areas, and is the only framework supported by NGO’s such as Greenpeace and WWF.

How materials can be transformed: embodied energy

When it comes to buildings, significant amounts of energy are required to process raw materials. Embodied energy is the energy consumed by all of the material processing required for the production of a building, including mining, processing, manufacturing, and transportation. Every building is made of a complex list of processed ingredients, all of which contribute to its total embodied energy.

A great practical example is to strip back the layers of a typical house and look only at its structure: steel studs versus wood studs. The University of Bath has concluded that the embodied energy and embodied carbon of steel are more than three times that of sawn softwood. Therefore, responsibly-harvested wood studs can be much less demanding in embodied energy levels. When you add up all the structure, insulation, finishes, and itty-bitty components of a house, choosing the right materials goes a long way in reducing your carbon footprint- those materials also need to perform well, be durable, and non-toxic.

How materials must be appreciated: high-performance, healthy, and beautiful

Nutrition is 99% invisible. We don’t need a nutritional breakdown of a Big Mac to know the value of its contents. The same is true in buildings: the products you can’t see usually provide the most value.

Building to high performance standards with natural materials will always satisfy your appetite. In a cold climate (like Toronto) this means using above-Building Code levels of insulation, airtight, high-performance windows, and efficient mechanical systems. Making it look appetizing is simply the dressing on the salad.

This article was contributed by Mike Mazurkiewicz for Sustainable TO

 

 

A touch of pink: women-only co-working spaces expanding in Toronto

If you are looking for a chic and modern co-working space, you are in luck. Toronto has added another women’s-only co-working space in the heart of the city. This multi-use space offers female entrepreneurs a place to connect, network, communicate, and help each other build up their brand. This concept is used in other cities like New York, where the offices almost become a retreat for women with the addition of several amenities. The space is supposed to represent the total opposite of a ‘frat-boy’ dominated office space with a fridge full of beer and beer pong.

The hope is that a feminine environment will help women feel comfortable, motivated, and productive. This idea has developed over the last two years, starting with little pop-up spaces at conferences and conventions that were inviting women. Shelley Zells is the founder of The Girls Lounge, a global pop-up space that offers a professional working environment with a chic ambience. The lounges have several pop-up locations in different countries each month.

The Wing in New York City is another popular co-working space that is exclusive to women. A recent study from Indiana University shows that women feel less pressured in a women’s-only environment. The study also concluded that women suffer from higher levels of cortisol in male dominated workspaces and are more likely to socially isolate themselves. The Wing does require membership, which starts at $215/ month. The membership for these places vary and can cost between $100-$700 monthly, although some places offer hourly or day passes.

The Wing New York

These spaces have become a warm and welcoming space for like-minded women to interact and work on their skills while networking. Places like The Wing are popular because of its design layout, which is very chic and clean, with just the perfect touch of millennial pink. There is a special lactation room for mothers and a beauty bar that offers makeup or fresh blowouts.

“The Parlor” The Wing NYC

Some co-working spaces are described as “boutique spaces” and offer various amenities ranging from beauty to wellness. Toronto joins the list of other big US cities/states that have female friendly co-working boutique spaces, including New York, St Louis, Phoenix, Southern California, and Washington D.C.

The most recent Toronto space opened on Sept 18 and is called Make Lemonade on Adelaide St. West. Make Lemonade is all about offering a beautiful office space to help women feel more productive than they would if they were just living out of a coffee shop. The belief behind Make Lemonade is that you can make any situation sweet no matter how sour. The concept of women-only also comes from the saying “empowered women empower women.” by artist and educator, Jenna Kutcher. The aim is to encourage women to get the job done, but to also be empowered along the way with cute and artsy motivational messages that are playful and simply pretty.

Make Lemonade- Toronto

The aesthetic of Make Lemonade is pleasing with tones of pink and yellow, and they offer $25 drop-in passes or full membership rates where you can even get your own office for $500/month, which includes 24/7 access with your own personal key. Women-only co-working spaces are slowly growing in Toronto and Make Lemonade joins other places like Shecosystem on Bloor Street West that offers wellness packages in addition to co-working.

 

What are your thoughts on women-only co-working spaces?

 

Are simple economics to blame for rising housing costs?

Toronto is undergoing a serious housing crisis — everyone is saying so! Experts, real estate agents, the media, and even politicians admit openly the cost of housing is getting out of control. And yet, even after months of knowing this fact, no one is doing anything about it.

Sure, the government is enacting rent control and a non-resident speculation tax. But this same government, whether municipal, provincial, or federal, hasn’t done what experts are claiming is the easiest and most effective thing they can do for the housing market: build!

“The only reason why prices rise is because there are more buyers than sellers,” explained Jon Love, CEO of KingSett Capital. “Prices rise for no other reason.”

Thursday, new statistics became available through the census that said Toronto has 5,000 fewer detached homes homes in 2016 compared to 2011. It’s what Love calls simple economics. When there are three people interested in purchasing one home, the problem isn’t foreigners or lack of regulation; it’s demand and supply. It means there aren’t enough homes for everyone.

Sure, we have lots of high-rise buildings popping up throughout the downtown core, but a family with three children most likely won’t want to live in an apartment building. Without diversity in housing, there will always be people left without.

It seems so simple; why is this so hard to understand? What is preventing people from building more family-friendly homes in Toronto and throughout the Golden Horseshoe?

Most people blame the NIMBYs — the people who claim they don’t want condos built in their back yard — or the bureaucratic red tape of development agencies. But Love says everyone is to blame. At the end of the day, he asks, “do we want to be Chicago, or Detroit?” A world-class city needs housing, daycare, parks, and transit — so, how do we get it?

First of all, the government needs to intensely invest in transit and open up surrounding geographies for development. If people who work in Toronto have the option of living in places like Hamilton, Barrie and Oshawa — with the possibility of commuting on an express train — many people will do so! An hour commute is not unreasonable if it means saving money on a home. This would also free up homes within the city for those who want or need it.

Why not take it even further and build on top of the rail, Love asks. The purpose of expanding the Golden Horseshoe through transit is to connect people and create communities and neighbourhoods along these hubs. This can’t be done if people have to walk for 30 minutes just to get to the bus.

Second of all, the city needs to encourage development zoning and encourage the building of low and mid-rise condominiums. “People are terrified of 60-story buildings,” Love said. “But mid-rise is fine! I would pre-zone areas to allow for that density.”

This type of variety in housing is necessary not only in order to accommodate the many types of people looking for homes in the GTHA., but also to allow for the immediate development of land in neighbourhoods that are against the building of tall condominiums. Pre-zoning would also reduce the number of complaints and bureaucratic tape that surrounds development. Instead of a developer purchasing land and then deciding what to do with it, the community would actually have a say in what kind of buildings or homes will be put in their neighbourhoods.

Finally, allowing a second kitchen within a home to be used as a secondary apartment, within designated areas, would be a short-term solution that would allow homeowners to rent our basements and provide housing for short-term occupancy.

These short and long term solutions were all suggested with the clear understanding that prices go up because there are more buyers than sellers, a concept Love says won’t be accepted until there is a significant change in public opinion.

The biggest problem is that NIMBY-ism and the fear of immigrants taking our land, jobs, and homes, are much more attractive for both the media and government agencies. Rather than stand with the experts, public servants are focusing on issues that will bring them votes, things like free prescription and lower electricity bills. Things only ever get done when the government is scared of losing power. If the public told governments to build, to increase the supply so that more people could purchase homes, it would have to do so. Until then, they will continue to blame tax foreigners and claim to help cool the market while families are left homeless.

It’s time the government consulted experts and remembered their university or college introduction to economics course — prices rise when the demand is higher than the supply. And here in the Golden Horseshoe, we have about as much demand as you can get.

CEO Sarah Thomson reveals purpose of Green Cities

In addition to being the publisher of Women’s Post, Sarah Thomson is also the volunteer CEO of the Transit Alliance. The Transit Alliance is a non-profit that is dedicated towards making the golden horseshoe area as green and pedestrian/transit-friendly as possible. In January, she hosted Green Cities 2017, a breakfast attended by over 300 business, community, and political leaders.

Attendees got to listen to two panels of experts discussing sustainable options for transit and building.

See what Thomson said at the end of Green Cities:

Over 300 people ask ‘do we live in a green city?’

On Jan. 25, over 300 people entered the Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library to discuss and debate this question: How do we design, plan, and build a green city?

The Transit Alliance, a non-political organization that works with those in the transit and infrastructure industry, hosted its first Green Cities breakfast Wednesday to discuss the need for greater transit, greener building, and an overall more liveable city design. Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat was the keynote speaker. “As humans, we have the ability to shape our habitat,” she said. “The model is not sustainable.”

During her speech, Keesmaat announced the King Street Pilot Project, which hopes to help unlock gridlock in a particularly messy and busy corridor. This is the first time Keesmaat has, in an official capacity, mentioned the project. Further details will be released on Feb. 13.

While guests enjoyed their coffee and muffins, Bruce McGuaig, CEO of Metrolinx; Dr. Dianne Saxe, Ontario Environment Commissioner; David Paterson, VP Corporate and Environmental Affairs for GM Canada; and, Mary Margaret McMahon, Toronto City Councillor walked on stage to take part in a panel discussion on transit. While a variety of topics were introduced, the common denominator seemed to be this: the Golden Horseshoe needs more. The city needs more transit, more funding, and more emphasis on liveability in design.

The second panel of the morning focused on green building, both commercial and residential. The panel consisted of Mike Schreiner, Leader of the Ontario Green Party; Amy Erixon, Principal and Managing Director Investments at Avison Young; Christopher Wein, President of Great Gulf; and, Andrew Bowerbank, Global Director, Sustainable Building Services at EllisDon. Education was a big topic of interest. Building green is only slightly more expensive, but the benefits and the return to the homebuyer is much greater. Everyone agreed that educating the public as to the real costs of building green is critical to a low-carbon community. The question of the panel: Why would we ever NOT build a LEED-certified or Net-Zero home anymore?

Here are a few select photos from Green Cities:

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