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Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence

By: Diamond Schmitt Architects


The Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence (ACCE) explores innovative new environments in skilled trades education. The building is a hybrid, combining construction trades and technical design programs under one roof. 

ACCE was constructed on a Design/Build model. To meet the challenge of a construction deadline of less than two years, co-operation was arranged with the local permit-issuing agency to facilitate an accelerated work schedule, where permits were issued sequentially as work progressed. The designers worked within the budget to balance aesthetic, didactic and sustainable choices. 

ACCE strove to give a large building on a suburban arterial road scale, texture and visual interest. To highlight the sustainable program of the building, variations of the College’s green color scheme were added to the solar shading. When viewed in motion from cars and buses, the colored fins animate a constantly changing oblique façade. 

In combining skilled trades and design technology learning, ACCE provides ample opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange. The need for informal learning inspired the terraced seating, study pods, roof amphitheatre and configuration of the cafe to be a big part of student life and to serve as a symbolic bridge between the academic tower and the trades wing.  The structure vividly demonstrates a comprehensive approach to sustainability to inspire and educate students and the public alike about the way forward in green building solutions. 

Sustainable Metrics:

Annual energy consumption: 2,577,212 kWh
Energy density: 142 ekWh/m2
Building full time equivalent population: 1,790
Annual potable water consumption: 3,400 L/person
Percentage recycled material content: 16%


Biofilter Living Wall in Atrium

The design concept for ACCE explicitly embraces nature. Bio-philic concepts support the positive experience of integrating natural systems in the constructed environment. The plazas, garden spaces, undulating green roof, and bio-filter wall form a single system of connected outdoor and indoor spaces. Each element enriches student experience, enhances bio-diversity, uses natural processes to reduce storm water run-off, reduce energy consumption and urban heat islands and to cleanse the indoor air. 

ACCE was designed to be a ‘living laboratory’ with cut-away reveals and interactive performance monitoring that allows students and the public to understand the invisible forces and processes at work. Examples include public, real-time energy monitoring of the building water consumption, envelope heat transfer and structural loading. The public has access to mechanical rooms, the green roof and renewable energy demonstrations. Exposed structure, ductwork, plumbing, piping, electrical services and lighting, together with wall and floor assemblies are revealed in place. The living laboratory features are experienced as central to the design concept, not just as peripheral elements. Daily interaction with the building and the living lab concept will help produce graduates who are environmentally aware, knowledgeable about green building practices, and able to live and work in a sustainable world.

Living Laboratory

East Elevation along Woodroffe Avenue

ACCE sought to address a looming shortage in Ontario in the skilled trades and to train the next generation in sustainable building practices. As such, the College wanted to make its program highly visible and accessible to potential students as well as faculty.

ACCE is fully integrated with a public transit hub and has 19 transit routes nearby. Zones for the public, college/public  interaction and private use by students and faculty are clearly delineated allowing the public to have full view of the trade shops, the exhibits, the bio-filter living wall and the atrium. In doing so, the objective of the Centre - to inspire and to educate - is made possible without compromise to safety or operations. 

ACCE anticipates further campus expansion; two additional second-storey bridges will connect to the LRT and bus terminals, to the west and south, respectively, providing comfortable four-season access and seamless public access through the facility. The site is also located in close proximity to many community amenities including a large commercial plaza (with grocery store) a major chain home improvement center, and the Centrepointe Theatre.

The project site has a very small parking footprint (16 parking spots) with preferred parking for VRTUCar (an Ottawa car-share program). Bicycle storage is provided. 

Sustainable Metrics:

Number of parking spaces (occupants & visitors): 14 with preferred parking for VRTUCar (an Ottawa car-share program)

Campus Plan

Site Plan

The biodiversity of the site, a former transit berm, has been increased by 300 percent realizing the objective to have more square footage under cultivation upon project completion than what existed before. 

The desire to handle all stormwater on a very small site was managed with a large green roof and cisterns. Rainwater is collected from the roof to delay the delivery to the city sewage system and for reuse in the building’s non-potable water requirements. 

Fully 57 percent of the roof is planted using self-irrigating felts. Sloping surfaces and perimeter plantings make the vegetation visible at grade. Non-vegetated surfaces apply highly reflective materials (concrete pavers with an SRI of greater than 29) to further decrease the heat-island effect. The green roof, landscaping and pervious pavement also reduce storm water runoff. 

Some areas of the green roof are accessible, creating a new meeting place, teaching space and relaxation area.  

Green roof

North-West Exterior: Sloping surfaces and perimeter plantings make the vegetation visible at grade.

East Facade: high efficiency building envelope, window to wall ratio of 28% and sunshades manage external building loads.

The designated site presented a problematic east-west exposure. Strategically placed perimeter windows optimize daylight and energy with minimal glazing to control envelope losses. Vertical sunshades that incorporate variations of the College’s green color scheme reduce glare and solar loads while maintaining appropriate daylight conditions.  

In Ottawa, The average July maximum temperature is 26.5 °C (80 °F) while the average January minimum temperature is −14.8 °C (5.4 °F). With Hot and humid summers and cold winters seasonal control is paramount. An innovative hybrid heat pump system is able to take the advantages of a distributed heat pump system in cooling mode as well as the advantages of fan coils in heating mode yielding higher seasonal efficiency as compared to either system on its own.

Internal Building Loads:

While loads in the teaching/office spaces are average for an academic building, the loads in the trade shops are much higher. A central, single heat wheel was used to capture as much internal energy possible to balance the high and average building load. 

External Building Loads:

A super insulated and high efficiency-building envelope as well as a window to wall ratio of 28% means the exterior loads are managed before the use of mechanical systems.

Psychometric Chart

Atrium and Terraced Commons

Analysis Grid - RAD Illuminance, Second Floor

As social learning is an important part of ACCE, the terraced commons, atrium and workshops are made visible to the community by utilizing large-scale windows at street level. The interior spaces are thus provided with natural light and views to the surrounding campus.

Circular skylights are distributed over the trade training spaces to provide natural light to internal spaces that traditionally receive very little daylight. The tower includes interior windows in core spaces facing the sky lit atrium.

Air quality is enhanced through the use of a decoupled ventilation system. The ventilation system delivers outdoor air as required to maintain healthy levels of CO2 in each space. Every classroom and office has an operable window. In natural ventilation mode, air is exhausted out through the mechanical room at the top of the atrium through a louvered doghouse in the mechanical room roof. 

Within the Atrium a 72-foot-high living wall bio-filter has been integrated into the architectural and HVAC design. Return air is directed through the living wall where a symbiotic plant /microbe ecosystem removes volatile organic compounds and other air contaminants. The filtered air is then distributed through the building’s ventilation system. The living walls have the potential to provide 75% to 80% of the building’s fresh air intake requirement. This significantly impacts energy performance in the heating and cooling seasons for fresh air over and above ASHRAE 62.1 requirements since the air is pre-tempered. 

Sustainable Metrics:

Percentage of total building area that uses daylight as the dominant light source during daylight hours (electrical lights off or dimmed below 20%): 75% (of regularly occupied spaces receive between 250 Lux and 5,000 Lux of daylight)
Percentage of regularly occupied spaces with views to the outdoors: 99%
Percentage of regularly occupied spaces within 4.5m (15ft) of an operable window: 99%

Green Roof

A 66,000-gallon cistern connected to roof drains captures rainwater for reuse in the building for non-potable water requirements, which offsets more than 50% of the building’s potable water use. High-efficiency fixtures are used throughout the facility. 

Fully 100 percent of irrigation needs are supplied by rainwater reuse. Exterior landscaping is native and adapted requiring minimal irrigation. 

Sustainable Metrics:

Percentage reduction of regulated potable water: 56%
Percentage of rainwater from maximum anticipated 24-hour -2 year storm that can be managed on site: 90% 
Amount of potable water used indoors and outdoors: 3,400 m3/occupant/annum
Is potable water used for irrigation?: No 
Percentage of reclaimed or greywater used indoors: 50%

Native and Adapted Exterior Landscaping

East-west section through atrium and great hall.

Heating and cooling are delivered primarily through a hybrid hydronic heat pump system. A make-up air unit with heat recovery serves the independent C02 sensor-controlled variable air volume 100% outdoor air distribution system. This combination of systems provides efficient and controllable heating, cooling and ventilation. To reduce the peak air-conditioning load solar shading, frit and insolation are used.

The building has a very deep plan with perimeter glazing and a central skylit atrium to provide daylight to the core. The thermal mass retains heat and would extend the comfortable interior temperature in the case of a power outage.

Throughout the design, five energy simulations were produced at key stages. This allowed the team to use energy modeling as a design tool to influence decisions with the integrated design process continuing through design and into construction.

The project includes a small educational demonstration solar hot water heater and solar photovoltaic, which save approximately $1,100 in operational costs per year, but more importantly are a demonstration for future students to study.

Photo-sensors and highly efficient LED and compact fluorescent lighting fixtures are used. 

Sustainable Metrics:

Total EUI (energy use intensity): 44.5 kbtu/sf/yr (projected)
Net EUI (Total energy use, less any energy generated on-site from renewable resources): 44.1 kbtu/sf/yr (projected)
Percentage reduction from national EUI for building type: 71%
Lighting power density: 11.73W/m2 (projected)

Building Envelope Section

Materials and finishes were selected to limit the impacts on the indoor environment. Only low-emitting wood, carpet, paints, adhesives and sealants are used. Fully 55% of the wood products are FSC certified. In total, 34% of the materials used in ACCE are from local sources and recycled content makes up 16%. Fully 99% of construction waste was diverted from landfill.

The high-performance building envelope with R-32 walls, triple-glazed R-8 windows and R-50 roofing, not only reduces energy costs for the building’s new life span but also improves occupant comfort.

A life cycle analysis was performed for multiple structural systems at the preliminary design stage. The steel structure selected was chosen because of its low embodied carbon and embodied energy. This analysis was performed using Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings. 

High-performance building envelope

ACCE Achieved the prestigious LEED durable building credit (MRc8) that is not pursued on many projects. To meet the owners building service life requirements, a building envelope specialist was included in the project team who focused on durability throughout the design and performed construction reviews. The steel and concrete structure can be recycled in the future.

The Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence includes a wide range of formal instructional spaces, from classrooms and studios to laboratories and trade shops. The latter, located in the two-storey wing, are designed as a synthesis of program distribution, social space and servicing.

Flanking a public corridor, the trade shops are organized into two bay sizes: 25 metres deep on the east 15 metres deep on the west. The 15 metre bays provide the flexibility of expanding classroom environments into the shop area if required. To deal with sound transmission between adjacent spaces, floating floors and masonry partitions are used to achieve STC 60 separations. 

In the learning and office tower open plan environments are provided to allow flexibility of use. 40-foot clear span from the circulation corridor to the will allow for future flexibility as the college’s needs evolve. Partition wall can be removed easily.

Public corridor and trades shops

Trade shop


ACCE was developed utilizing an Integrated Design Process (IDP). This collaborative model involved engineers, consultants, builders, general contractor and the mechanical and electrical contractors along with the active participation of the client. Through this process, the objective to strive for LEED Platinum was realized and put into place. The funding mechanism from governments to complete the project in under two years added to the challenge, for which the IDP facilitated expediency and the decision-making process. The Design-Build team implemented a fast-track construction method with sequential tendering, erecting the building while the design was still on the drawing boards.  This required the utmost coordination and cooperation between the trade contractors and the design team.

Sustainable initiatives were not only implemented to produce an energy-efficient building but also to be on display to fulfill a didactic and informative role in the learning environment. The building provides occupants with real-time energy monitoring of the building water consumption, envelope heat transfer and structural loading. The building is part of the curriculum. 

Lessons Learned: 

• Promoting renewable energy through BIPV or rooftop PV should be higher in the budget priorities.
• Insulated metal panels require more technical development from the industry to be used efficiently in future projects.

Study Pods

JV Architect: Diamond Schmitt Architects 

JV Architect: Edward J. Cuhaci and Associates Architects Inc.

General Contractor: EllisDon (Design Builder)

Landscape Architect: Gino J. Aiello Landscape Architect

Civil Engineer: Delcan Corporation

Electrical Engineer: Goodkey Weedmark Consulting Engineers

Mechanical Engineer: Goodkey Weedmark Consulting Engineers

Structural Engineer: Halsall Associates

Living Laboratory: OSI, Dunn Engineering

LEED Consultant: Halsall Associates 

Commissioning Agent: Nova Commissioning Services Ltd.

Owner/Developer: Algonquin College

Life Safety: LMDG Building Code Consultants Ltd.

Acoustics: Aercoustics Engineering Ltd.

Geotechnical Engineer/Hydrogeologist: Alston Associates Inc.

Durable Building Consultant: Halsall Associates

Living Wall Consultany: NedLaw Living Walls