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Calgary Public Building Awarded for Rehabilitation Efforts

It is no secret that the most feasible way to protect a historic place from becoming a victim of the wrecking ball and bulldozer is to give it a new purpose to serve a community's evolving needs.  Naturally, it is not realistic or even desirable to expect that every old building become a museum or shrine to the past once it becomes vacant.  In fact, throughout their lifecycle, most buildings have accommodated multiple uses and tenants and, as a result, have been altered, Calgary Public Building during construction, 1929-30, Glenbow Archives / Le Calgary Public Building durant sa construction, 1929-30, les Archives de Glenbowupgraded and retrofitted.  This flexibility is one of the beneficial qualities of a considerable amount of this country's building stock.

Rehabilitation, the act of sustaining the use of a historic place or a part of it through repair, modifications, and/or additions while preserving the values associated with that place, is a viable option which allows a building to continue to be relevant for future generations to appreciate.  Recent examples of successful rehabilitation projects exist across our nation.  The following article by Jessica Wallace published in University of Calgary's magazine, UToday, highlights, through the conservation story of the Calgary Public Building, how century-old structures can be rehabilitated to accommodate modern energy demands and other contemporary use requirements.



UTODAY May 17, 2011
Calgary Public Building: Restorative Design
By Jessica Wallace

Marc Boutin, environmental design associate professor, and his architecture firm, the Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative Inc, recently received the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Sustainable Communities Design Award, for their restoration design on the Calgary Public Building.

Built in 1931, the Calgary Public Building is an eight-storey, reinforced concrete structure located at the eastern end of Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall in downtown Calgary. The building occupies a major central site; adjacent to Olympic Plaza, in close proximity to City Hall and home of the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts.

Established in 2000, FCM Sustainable Communities Design Awards offers national recognition for municipally-led environmental projects that demonstrate leadership, innovation and excellence.

Boutin and his team earned recognition not only for their extensive restorative building design, but also on the sustainability of the project for future generations. The team's design proposed upgrades to the buildings heating, cooling and electrical systems, with the goal of improving energy efficiency in the building and the health and safety of its more than 300 employees.

Where possible, they chose to reuse and recycle rather than buy new or demolish. The renovation preserved the exterior of the historic building and reaped significant environmental impacts.

The renovation has lowered operating costs in the Calgary Public Building by an impressive 46 percent, while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 54 percent. The installation of low-flow toilets and automatic faucets has reduced water consumption by 45 percent; with solar power technology now generating 60 percent of the building's hot water.

Boutin's design also earned LEED Gold certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized certification for green building based on environmental factors such as energy savings, water efficiency and CO2 emissions reductions. This project was also awarded the City of Calgary Lions Heritage Award, which recognizes heritage conservation in our city.



The Calgary Public Building project, under the direction of Marc Boutin, is a fine example of how old and new design can coexist for the benefit of the community at large as well as for those who manage and use the building on a daily basis.  This initiative represents responsible heritage conservation principles and, as a result, was recognized in 2010 by the City of Calgary through the Lion Heritage Awards under the 'Building Restoration' category.  The project had to comply with accepted heritage conservation standards and maintain the structure's heritage integrity.  Accordingly, the design team was challenged to "Integrate the best of modern design with respect for serious historical restoration to create a landmark facility for Calgary."

Calgary Public Building completed, 1931, Glenbow Archives / Le Calgary Public Building complété, 1931, les Archives de GlenbowA responsible steward will ensure that heritage values are respected in any conservation work undertaken on a historic place.  Where can information about the importance of a historic place be found?  Enter the Canadian Register of Historic Places (CRHP), an essential tool for conservation activities in Canada.  The CRHP, a collaboration between all levels of government in Canada, is an ever-increasing register currently listing over 12,400 historic places formally designated by jurisdictions across the country.  Each record includes a succinct description of the values attributed to a place as well as the elements which define its character, known as a Statement of Significance (SoS).  The CRHP therefore arms people with the knowledge about a historic place needed to make informed decisions which respect the historic values of a place. 

By the same token, the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, now in its second edition, is another indispensable tool which provides reliable advice for sound decision-making where heritage conservation is concerned.  This is achieved through making available practical guidance on recommended or appropriate interventions to all types of historic places including landscapes, archaeological sites, and engineering works.

With respect to the Calgary Public Building, protecting the original materials and exterior architectural features, such as windows and masonry, was integral to preserving its heritage values.  Municipally designated, the Calgary Public Building is historically significant to the community for its distinct Beaux-Arts architecture, a popular style for public structures built between the First and Second World Wars.  Elements such as immense classical columns, high-quality Tyndall limestone cladding, and impressive upper-level windows flanked by ornate metal spandrels help define the character of the structure as a prominent early 1930s federal government building.  Indeed, the project retained these exterior features thus maintaining the integrity of its heritage values.   The original character of the interior materials and detailing were equally respected during the project. Calgary Public Building, 2007, City of Calgary / Le Calgary Public Building, 2007, Ville de Calgary

By continuing to share similar positive stories of historic places being adapted to modern requirements all the while retaining their heritage value, it becomes clear that sustainable heritage is, in reality, an achievable goal.  The more we preserve of our urban fabric, the greener our cities become with less landfill being generated as the result of demolition.  Adaptation and change are not the archenemies of heritage, rather they are the means to protect old buildings and serve modern needs.  For greater social and economic benefit to our communities, adaptive reuse of our historic places will ensure that generations to come will understand and appreciate their shared past.