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Winnipeg office buildings putting on a brave new face

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by Peter Caulfield

Two office buildings in downtown Winnipeg that are examples of the city's mid-20th century modernist architectural heritage are getting a face-lift.
Winnipeg office buildings putting on a brave new face

Two office buildings in downtown Winnipeg that are examples of the city's mid-20th century modernist architectural heritage are getting a face-lift.

Morguard Investments Ltd.’s 15-storey, glass-panelled building at 363 Broadway is getting a new curtainwall that, the company said, will give the structure a new appearance and increase its energy efficiency.

And, down the street at 333 Broadway, the six-storey headquarters of the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba is re-affixing hundreds of stone slabs to its exterior.

Replacement of the curtainwall of the Morguard building requires removing all of its copper-colored glass panels, re-insulating and resealing the walls and then installing 80,000 square feet of new glass panels.

To reduce solar-heat gains on the ground floor, aluminum sunshades are being installed on its south and east sides.

The new blue, green and grey panels, some of which are transparent and some not, will have a special glazing that makes them more energy-efficient than the old ones and allows up to 60 per cent more daylight into the building.

Karen Lund, general manager of Morguard’s Winnipeg office, said work on the approximately $4 million project began in mid-April with the erection of exterior scaffolding. It will take about a year to complete.

Smith Carter Architects and Engineers Inc. is the prime consultant, Crosier Kilgour and Partners Ltd. are the structural engineer and Border Glass and Aluminum is the contractor.

“We’ll begin installing spandrels and windows in May, starting with four vacant floors in the building,” Lund said. “It will take two weeks per floor to remove the old windows and spandrels and install the new ones.”

The genesis of the project was failing seals on many of the windows in the building, which was completed in 1977. In late 2009, Morguard engaged Smith Carter to investigate the window failures. Project manager Ron Suzuki said the building’s curtainwalls had reached the end of their useful life.

“After looking at six possible scenarios and their associated costs, we and the client decided on a retrofit and a new look for the building,” Suzuki said.

He added that retrofitting a building’s curtainwall system, while it is occupied, is not an ordinary construction project.

“The main challenges are the weather and tenant disruption,” he said. “That means maximizing the safety and comfort of tenants and minimizing construction noise.”

The project is expected to lead to as yet undetermined energy savings.

“Energy savings depend on building air loss, but we didn’t know how to calculate that in a large office building,” Suzuki said.

To quantify energy savings, Smith Carter has partnered with Manitoba Hydro, Red River College’s Office of Applied Research and Commercialization and Proskiw Engineering Ltd. to conduct an air tightness testing demonstration project on the building. Suzuki said air tightness in commercial buildings is an emerging field, with limited data compared to residential buildings. Hydro and RRC will be conducting air leakage tests on the building before and after the renovations. The resulting data will tell them how air-tight the new curtain wall is. Smith Carter is also performing before-and-after thermographic infrared scans, to measure heat loss, and before-and-after audits of the building’s use of utilities.

Down the street from the Morguard project, the 51-year-old Workers Compensation Board building is having its black granite exterior re-affixed, to prevent its facade from crumbling away.

WCB director of communications Warren Preece said the problem is common to other Winnipeg buildings erected in the middle of the last century.

“The architects who designed them were not aware of the effect freeze-thaw cycles would have on the stone cladding,” he said. “They didn’t know what happens when water gets in behind the stone.”

The $15 million project, began in August and is expected to be completed by mid-2012. It involves re-affixing 4,400 stone slabs, 1,300 tons of black granite, to a metal frame on the building exterior.

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