The lull before the next wave of condo construction in Toronto’s downtown is an opportunity to reflect on the type of buildings we want to live in for years to come. Concerns about the environmental sustainability of the city’s new glass towers were largely ignored during the frenzied era of glitzy upgrades, bidding wars and lineups for multimillion-dollar penthouse purchases.
That was a mistake that shouldn’t be repeated.
“Blips in the economy are good for rethinking what we should be doing,” says Graeme Stewart of ERA Architects. Stewart notes the flood of applications for new condo construction during the heady days of the pre-recession condo boom meant energy efficiency concerns were largely ignored.
“But now is the time to take a breath and say, ‘What should the next round be like?’”
It should definitely be about buildings that are greener. University of Waterloo building science expert John Straube says the glass walls on many recently built downtown towers make them the building equivalent of a Hummer when it comes to energy consumption.
That’s because glass is a lousy insulator. It leaks heat during the winter and allows the hot sun in during summer.
How did we end up here? Glass walls and cheaper but less-than-efficient heating and cooling systems were installed in many buildings because the developers have interests that are different from the buyers who foot the utility bills.
There are signs consumers are buying into sustainability so there’s a chance the future may be different.
Developers are offering green features. Purchasers are responding. And the building code is slated for more frequent revisions to keep up with technological innovation.
In the meantime, though, the skyline is dotted with multi-storey environmental mistakes — mistakes that aren’t going away any time soon.