This article looks into the world’s greenest buildings. It is based off the book of the same name by Yudelson and Meyer. I just finished reading the book, which you can find in the picture below. I thought it was an interesting read and it was clearly a very well researched book.

The book takes a hard look at promise versus performance in sustainable design. Following up with building occupants and architects to see if superior performance was actually achieved.

Even though the book came out in 2013, I was amazed by how many innovative features, that resulted in real savings have yet to become commonplace within the built environment.

The book looked at 49 best in class case studies from around the world and over the next few weeks I will pick out what I considered to be my favourites.

Manitoba Hydro Place

This case study jumped out at me as it dispelled a lot of rumours about sustainable design and the climates that are more amenable to low carbon buildings.

Located in Winnipeg Canada, which the coldest city in the world with a population over 600,000 and which experiences sustained wind throughout the year. Despite these harsh conditions, the designers used a series of integrated solutions to deliver 66% energy savings compared to a traditional office building in Canada.

At the genesis of the project, an Integrated Design Process (IDP) was established. One outcome of this was a charter, signed by all of the companies working on the project. This committed everyone to achieve high levels of performance on sustainability, wellbeing, and urban regeneration whilst at the same time being cost effective.

Further intensive workshops at the start of the project revealed that an architecturally integrated solar chimney and winter gardens with water features, could be two unique features that would help the building to stand out.

I liked the phrase solar chimney as it linked a traditional feature of a chimney from the past, to the present with solar design.

The building made use of passive solar design to maximise heat gains in winter and reduce heat losses in winter. For the façade, there is an aluminium double-glazed curtain wall that creates a buffer zone that traps heat. The building is equipped with two weather stations, that are linked to the outer curtain and these are opened or closed as appropriate to maintain a stable inside temperature.

If conditions are appropriate, the building management system is also configured to message employees to open the interior wall windows so that they can control temperatures in their local workspace. I was really impressed by these features.

The building is well equipped with smart sensors that make the most efficient use of lighting possible. In winter, fans draw air down the solar chimney to heat-recovery units. This helps to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature with a low amount of energy use.

Inside the offices, a geothermal heat pump system is the primary active heating and cooling system, providing 80% of the heating requirements.

In term of occupant wellbeing, the combination of the solar chimney, the winter garden and the water feature creates an indoor air quality and working environment that is extremely pleasant in all four seasons.

The building has a green roof that is accessible to employees that was planted with native species. Should their be a dry period, there is a collection system within the building that collects condensation from mechanical systems. If required, this can be pumped to the garden and distributed via a drip irrigation system. This was a very climate smart feature to deal with the increased potential of longer and hotter summer periods.

The culmination of all of these efforts resulted in the IDP achieving the goals that they set out to achieve and created a successful, sustainable building, that performs strongly for occupant wellbeing and that is also architecturally very nice to look at.

The energy intensity of the building comes in at 112 kWh/ sq m. Which when compared to other green buildings identified in the book and elsewhere is  a very strong performance. When the harsh climactic conditions are taken into account, this feat becomes even more impressive.

What you need to know   

This article is the first part in a series of articles where I am picking out my favourite sustainable buildings from Yudelson and Meyer’s book The World’s Greenest Buildings.

I really enjoyed the book and I think it is really important to look back at performance data to see if solutions actually worked and not just rely on projected performance data.

Overall, Manitoba Hydro Place as one of my favourite buildings from the book. I was really impressed by the teamwork aspect in creating the IDP.

The focus on passive systems to negate the reliance on active heating and cooling systems was impressive, as was the focus on technology, with a building management system that is set up to talk to building occupants to optimise performance. Sadly despite the time that has passed since publication, systems like this are not commonplace today, despite their effectiveness.

There is a lot that can be learned from studying Manitoba Hydro Place. In challenging climactic conditions, they managed to create a building which achieved significant energy savings. This shows how in less extreme conditions, even bigger savings should be expected.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think makes a building a sustainable building?

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I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


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