World events can jumpstart sustainable building solutions, by Chris Tobias

At the WGBC International Congress today, experts were saying that major events such as the Olympic Games and mega-exhibitions offer cities a unique catalyst for rethinking how planning, building, and construction evolve.

Lisa Bate, Chair Canada Green Building Council and Principal, B+H Architects, shared with the audience that for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 and the forthcoming Pan-American games set for 2015 in Toronto, clear goals were set to integrate sustainability in the planning of the events.

The key carbon strategy included the themes of know, reduce, offset, enable and inspire.

Here are some case studies:


Set in a mountainous coastal region, the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 involved 29 days total of competition, including the Paralympic Games. About 1.6 million tickets were sold for events involving 6000 athletes.

During the planning stages, the strategy boiled down to smart site selection, clustered venue locations, and pursuing LEED Rating System for New Buildings.

For transport, the goal was to see a 30 percent vehicle reduction during the games. Public transport became critical, and a total of 1.5 million people moved per day during the games, out of a regional population of 2.3 million. Bikeways, public transport, and car shares were other transport options made available.

Olympic Athletes Village was entirely green building, certified LEED Gold or Platinum in this development. Part of it was a redevelopment of a former industrial site.

Some green features include rainwater collection and reuse, minimized energy use and optimising for internal comfort, 50 percent of green roofs and rooftop gardens, and adjacency to public transport. Accessibility for people with disabilities was key to this project, due to the Paralympic Games. There was a lot of day-lighting built into the structures with increases in glazing. This helped reduce energy load.

There was a NetZero Building which has since become an affordable housing block for seniors. This building is estimated to produce as much energy as it uses, and targeted at LEED Platinum.

False Creek Energy Centre, a LEED Gold facility, was an energy utility plant supplying heat to the local area which harvested heat energy from waste water.

Wood for Richmond Olympic Oval Stadium used timber damaged by pine beetles in its construction. Raising the ice rink above the car park helped create an ideal thermal condition for competition ice. This facility has a great legacy effect in that it has been used beyond the Olympics.

Vancouver Convention Centre has six acres of living roof. Some 80 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfill. There is a desalination system, as well as a grey and blackwater system for processing waste water. The structure also uses local timber.

The main lesson learned in the process was the need for municipal, regional, and federal governments to cooperate. “Games were considered the finish line and that instigated a real push to get things done. It allowed for quicker, and possibly deeper change in behaviours, institutions, and culture. Vancouver as a city now has a deeper understanding of its connection globally,” Ms. Bate said.

Development towards the Pan-American Games coming to Toronto in 2015 will incorporate many of the lessons from Vancouver. In Toronto, there’s the desire to use the existing facilities as much as possible. The games site will be located on a former industrial site that will be remediated, rather than a greenfield site.

Shanghai Expo Shifting China’s Plans

Prof. Dr. Wu Zhiqiang, Asst. President Tongji University also serves Vice Director China GBC, and was the Chief Planner, World Expo 2010 in Shanghai China. About 150 years old, Shanghai is a relatively young city by Chinese standards.

Prof. Zhiqiang illustrated the significant transformation of Chinese society. In the past 30 years, 30 percent of the Chinese population, or two times the population of the United States, has moved from the countryside into cities. It is a historic shift towards urbanisation in China’s development. This trend is pegged to continue into the future and continue to have massive impacts.

Within Shanghai’s urban environment, some 70 million visitors are expected over the 174 days of Shanghai Expo. It is a historic record for any World Expo as well as for any documented event in human history. Everyday over 400,000 visitors come to the city.

The concept central to the Shanghai Expo’s development, and one communicated to visitors was “Harmony City.” This encompasses the relationship between humans and nature, humans and each other, and the renaissance of the city—creating a harmony between the history and the future.

Feeding into this theme, some of the Expo’s master-planning green features included water chilled by the river for festival ventilation systems, large scale LED lighting implementation, cuts in air pollution and air flow planning, numerous structures constructed to new green building standards. Some structures such as the Theme Pavilion were made to actually generate energy back to the grid.

The Expo legacy for China has lead to increased research into renewable energy projects, among other outcomes. Some of the knowledge and technologies will be applied across eight pilot cities across China. The other unfortunate legacy of the event: nearly every international pavilion from the event will be demolished. Reuse of any of those materials is unclear.

London, with legacy in mind

The lead up to the 2012 Olympic Games in London has seen significant planning. Dan Epstien, Head Sustainable Development and Regeneration, Olympic Delivery Authority, has been working 30 years in the sustainability area.

“We set ambitious goals and targets to be the most sustainable Olympic Games ever,” he said.

Two such aspirations included 20 percent of energy will come from renewables, and the games will have a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

The project was broken down into six phases of the project: planning, demolish, big build, test events, staging the games, and legacy of the games.

The Olympic site will be set centrally in London along a diverse section of biodiverse wetland, and along central rail routes to numerous local and international destinations. It is also in a socially deprived area of London where people have eight years lower life expectancy than average.

The project focused on legacy as a first priority. The games precinct will create a new urban quarter for London, maintain a sense of place, focus on mixed land use, make enhancements to public transport, maintain an agenda focusing on 100 years and beyond, help create tightly knitted local communities, foster more economic and social opportunities for all, and keep high environmental standards.

“The masterplan had to incorporate all of these elements and get the legacy right,” Mr. Epstein said.

The site had largely been a dumping ground for many years. Many outdated structures were demolished, and some 2 million cubic metres of material had been moved, processed, and in some ways reused. Many ambitious structures are planned and currently under construction. The world will have to wait a bit longer to see many of the outcomes, but the initial developments are promising.

From a variety of vantage points, projects in Vancouver, Shanghai, and London all demonstrate an expansion of the environmental agenda to larger social agendas.

They also seem show that building projects are also beyond merely the structure, but engaging local communities, and governments.

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