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Normand Maurice Building

Montreal, Quebec

Leading Light: The Normand Maurice Building shows how multiple federal agencies can go green in a renovated historic building

By David Sokol

Montreal architect claude Bourbeau has been intrigued by the sustainability movement since before it had a name. As a student at the University of Montreal, in 1981, Bourbeau designed for his thesis project an educational camp facility whose rainwater cistern, rooftops studded with plants and solar-thermal arrays, and generous deployment of thermal massing is feted by colleagues even today.

Normand Maurice Building
Photo © Nic Lehoux
Normand Maurice Building, Montreal, Quebec

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LOCATION: Montreal, Quebec, Canada (confluence of Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers)

GROSS SQUARE FOOTAGE: 169,000 ft2 (15,700 m2 )

COST: $29.7 million

COMPLETED: July 2006


ANNUAL CARBON FOOTPRINT (PREDICTED): 4 lbs. CO2 /ft2 (19 kg CO2 /m2 )

PROGRAM: Office headquarters, warehouse, storage, armory, drill hall, shooting range, trucking depot

Heating/Cooling Degree Days   Temp./Dew Points   Precipitation
Heating/Cooling Degree Days   Temp./Dew Points   Precipitation

OWNER: Public Works and Government Services
ARCHITECT: Busby Perkins+Will, Beauchamp et Bourbeau Canada (associate), ABCP Architecture & Urbanisme (associate)
LANDSCAPE: Groupe Rousseau Lefebvre
ENGINEERS: Saia Deslauriers Kadanoff, Leonte, Brisebois, Blais (structural), Pageau Morel et Associes (mechanical and electrical), Keen Engineering/Stantec Consulting (consultant)
ACOUSTICAL: Groupe Rousseau Lefebvre

WINDOWS AND GLAZING: Vitrerie Lassard Inc.
GREEN ROOF: Hydrotech, Sarnafill
DRYWALL: CGC, Georgia Pacific, Westroc
FLOORING: Tarkett Sommer, Forbo, Mohawk, Miliken, Lees
BATHROOM FIXTURES: American Standard, Caroma Caravelle
ALUMINUM LOUVRES: Vitrerie Lessard, Componance

Only recently has Bourbeau been able to actualize his interest with the completion of the Normand Maurice Building near downtown Montreal. Designed by Beauchamp-Bourbeau Architectes and ABCP Architecture & Urbanisme, with Busby Perkins+Will as lead designer, the project has introduced green principles to the Quebec metropolis in a manner that is as unpretentious as its context.

Canada, which effectively dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2006, has been slow to embrace environmentalism. In the province of Quebec, provincial agencies decide autonomously how green their public buildings will be. With cheap local hydroelectric power that precludes justifying sustainable capital investments and a reasonable payback schedule, Quebec sustains only 82 LEED-registered buildings and another five that are certified.

The Normand Maurice Building combines office and warehouse functions and more than 200,000 square feet of underground parking for the federal organizations Donnacona Naval Reserve of the Department of National Defence, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Human Resources Development Canada, and the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. That makes it a project of the Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC)—the Canadian equivalent of the United States’ General Services Administration (GSA). Like the GSA, the PWGSC has outpaced other Canadian government bodies in sustainable design. In 2004, for example, it launched an initiative requiring all major federal building projects to meet advanced environmental performance criteria, and the following year it opened an internal department called the Office of Greening Government Operations (OGGO) to accelerate that change.

At the time PWGSC issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the Normand Maurice Building in 2002, it had not officially required federal public works to meet sustainability standards. Still, Bourbeau faced a conundrum. The RFQ stated a preference that respondents follow LEED principles, but the province’s poor sustainability track record meant that few Montreal-based architects had the experience. In order to assemble an appropriate team, Bourbeau and his colleague Lyse Tremblay combed the names of architects involved in green architecture. Three architects from Busby Associates appeared on the list, Bourbeau phoned Peter Busby, and a team was assembled. The trio of architecture firms won the job in late 2002, and it was one of the first in Quebec to incorporate LEED requirements as part of its fixed-price bid package. (Perkins+Will acquired Vancouver-based Busby Associates in 2005, a year before the Normand Maurice Building was finished.)

Located in Montreal’s historic St. Henri district, the 112,000-square-foot site of the Normand Maurice Building already contained storage facilities that government agencies had been using for the previous 15 years. Prior to that, the complex of buildings, constructed between 1851 and 1950 and originally a munitions foundry, had had an inconsistent relationship with the environment. On the one hand, the older industrial structures were among the first in Canada to sport north-facing light monitors that flooded the interior with diffuse daylight. On the other, those older buildings’ toxic function required the PWGSC and the design team to first undertake remediation of the site, which involved carting away several feet of soil.

While navigating this preliminary process, buildings were deconstructed rather than demolished, and key portions of these predecessors, such as trusses and bricks, were salvaged for reuse. (Appropriately, the building’s namesake, deceased educator Normand Maurice, founded the Centres de Formation en Enterprise et Récupération in 1990, a network of recycling facilities that employ school dropouts.) Even the entrance elevation of the foundry administration building, a six-bay brick facade that dates to approximately 1890, was left intact and integrated into the new front elevation. That artifact now frames the entry for all building users except for the employees of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for whom security requirements called for a separate entrance, which opens into an atrium where you can glimpse naval-reserve students and teachers breaking a sweat in the basement-level workout area.

Site environmental remediation and the reuse of building components combined to form a facility that sits comfortably alongside the old industrial buildings and apartment conversions of St. Henri. Measuring a full city block in length, the main axis of the Normand Maurice Building runs from northwest to southeast. The steel-frame structure comprises a brick base that almost covers the building lot from sidewalk to sidewalk, as well as a slim metal-panel-clad volume that sits close to its northeast edge and reaches an additional three stories higher. The broader plinth contains a drill hall, armory, shooting range, and, importantly, a trucking depot and secure storage—seized goods like drugs are kept here. The upper volume houses offices, classrooms, and meeting spaces for all four government agencies, with the mounties again secluded from the others. By placing the truck and warehouse spaces slightly belowground, the architects gave the building a height and a rhythm reminiscent of the typical urban streetwall. It’s not diminutive, to be sure, but it’s not overwhelming, either.

Despite the familiarly quiet, muscular appearance, the Normand Maurice Building also sports some subtle jewelry. The glazed southwest elevation of the upper volume is entirely studded with extruded aluminum louvers designed by Busby Perkins+Will industrial designer Soren Schou. Ecotect software models took the building’s latitude and longitude coordinates into consideration, as well as the Montreal urban grid, which is situated diagonally to the cardinal points. It determined that louver blades inclined in two directions and mounted by spider connections at a 37-degree angle would provide the most shade during summer and daylight transmission in winter. This optimized scheme also requires 20 percent less aluminum than horizontal louvers.

Just as the historic facade of the foundry administration building signals the daylight-filled atrium just inside, so the louvers and window wall bookend a main corridor running the entire length of the office volume. Upper hallways are pulled back from the windows so that stack-effect-driven air circulation can improve natural ventilation. A thermal-mass wall made of salvaged brick expedites this phenomenon, and radiant heating and a gas-fired chiller system operate in more extreme temperatures.

While building users gather in this gracious corridor, in summertime they may converge outdoors. A patio and 32,300-square-foot green roof dominated by clover crowns the armory and drill hall below. “Our snow loads are so severe that an extensive green roof is not that big a deal,” Bourbeau says. Yet the rooftop also includes two less-expected basins in which sink graywater releases sediment and is subjected to phytoremediative treatment before being combined with cistern-collected rainwater to fill toilets and wash cars. Tied to low-flush and waterless bath fixtures, the systems have reduced water usage by 25 percent over comparable buildings.

Strategically perched neighbors spying on this rooftop idyll may also see the light scoops that line the office volume’s low-albedo rooftop: Another one of the Normand Maurice Building’s most visible green strategies, the five 8-by-12-foot light scoops provide daylight to 78 percent of all regularly occupied spaces. Each one is distinguished by a glazed volume in which a white gypsum-board funnel shape points downward into a vacant shaft; the setup boosts natural ventilation in a manner similar to the louver-decorated main corridor.

Busby Perkins+Will principal Susan Gushe says, “This was one of the most difficult projects I ever worked on.” She explains, “The four tenants had very disparate programs. Trying to find synergies was very difficult, because the nature of their spaces was very specific and the security around those types of spaces was unique.” The Normand Maurice Building’s calm face belies the three-dimensional puzzle inside, and with the exceptions of its roofs, louvers, and recycled facade, it also handily conceals multiple other green strategies, such as a 65-well ground-source heat-pump system and a computer program, powered by Canada’s meteorology service, that e-mails office occupants about opening their northeast-facing windows during the correct weather conditions. The building is expected to consume 54 percent less energy than code, exceeding expectations by almost 10 percent.

Perhaps one could say that the Normand Maurice Building exceeded the PWGSC’s expectations, too. The agency was still working on its sustainable objectives when the project was in progress. Although it championed green, it hadn’t originally planned to obtain LEED certification. Along with other green efforts, the project “demonstrated to PWGSC that the direction taken in designing and constructing more sustainable buildings was correct and effective,” says PWGSC spokesperson Lucie Brosseau. With the launch of OGGO in 2005, the PWGSC requires all new government office buildings to go Gold. Montreal buildings should have no problem meeting the standard: The louvers designed for the Normand Maurice Building are now on the market.

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This article appeared in the September 2008 print issue of GreenSource Magazine

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