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Cold weather not stopping creative building design

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by Jean Sorensen

Cold weather concerns over building envelopes, while a critical factor in modern building design, don’t have to limit the architectural impact of a structure, says an engineering building envelope specialist who consulted on the new Art Gallery of Alberta, which has been called a piece of art itself.
The new Art Gallery of Alberta, which has been called a piece of art itself, was designed by renowned U.S. museum architect Randall Stout. The addition adds 27,000 square feet of new construction to primarily public galleries.
The new Art Gallery of Alberta, which has been called a piece of art itself, was designed by renowned U.S. museum architect Randall Stout. The addition adds 27,000 square feet of new construction to primarily public galleries.

Engineering

EDMONTON

Cold weather concerns over building envelopes, while a critical factor in modern building design, don’t have to limit the architectural impact of a structure, says an engineering building envelope specialist who consulted on the new Art Gallery of Alberta, which has been called a piece of art itself.

The Art Gallery addition, located in Edmonton’s central civic Sir Winston Churchill Square, has been designed by renowned U.S. museum architect Randall Stout.

A free-flowing metal sculpture called the “Borealis” is a prominent feature of the building exterior. “The Borealis resembles a steel ribbon that floats around and through the building’s main atrium space,” says Nick Trovato, P.Eng., managing principal of Read Jones Christoffersen’s Edmonton building science and restoration group, who is assisting Randall Stout on the envelope design.

Trovato says designing an envelope that accommodated the visual impact of the structure with its flowing curves and ribbon was “one of the most challenging projects we have done but it has also been a lot of fun.”

The contemporary design of exterior patinaed zinc (which resembles stainless steel) and glass will reflect the changing northern weather and provide distinctive views depending on time of day or the season.

The addition adds 27,000 square feet of new construction to primarily public galleries, and when finished in 2009, there will be approximately a total of 83,000 square feet in the venue.

Trovato says that while an architectural firm has the vision of what it wants to achieve, the role the engineering firm plays is to help achieve this vision through practical and effective detailing of the project.

Trovato says that unlike B.C. where many of the buildings are required to obtain a review from a building envelope specialist, Alberta has not made that mandatory.

But, he said, many owners, architects and developers are consulting with a building envelope specialist because of the obstacles in building in Alberta’s severe climate.

“Services can vary from providing detailed design and site inspections to third-party independent review of the building envelope design.” he says, adding most responsible constructors realize the down-stream problems that can occur with a poorly designed envelope.

While B.C.’s leaky condo problems were related to its wet climate and water ingress, in addition to water penetration, Alberta’s threat to building envelopes is its severe cold temperatures. Leakage of warm, moist air from the interior into the cold exterior wall cavity can result in condensation within the building’s exterior cladding.

During severe cold weather, this condensation builds up in the form of ice and once warmer conditions occur, the ice melts, causing damage to interior finishes, and leaving stains, mould and eventually rot or corrosion.

Remedial repairs can be costly.

Another consideration today in building envelope design, says Trovato, is the trend towards greater energy conservation.

With the escalating cost to heat or cool buildings, improving the performance of the building envelope through increased thermal resistance and reduced leakage results in long term energy savings to the owners.

Finally, says Trovato, workmanship, detailing and product selection all play a role in how effective the design is.

“When building during winter, a lot of the products are moisture or temperature sensitive,” he says adding that good craftsmen will be aware of the product’s limitations (such as applying caulking materials at the appropriate temperatures). “Cold weather construction often requires enclosing the work space and heating the area to allow materials to properly cure.

This can add cost to the project and extend the construction schedule.” It is also important that consideration be given to using materials that can be applied and perform well in the extreme temperatures that occur from summer to winter months.

With proper design, detailing and product selection, buildings can perform effectively under adverse weather conditions. Construction started on the new art gallery this summer.

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