Canadian Consulting Engineer

Open Concepts

August 1, 2008
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Situated on College Street near Queen's Park, the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research is near a busy intersection and in the middle of the University of Toronto downtown ca...

Situated on College Street near Queen’s Park, the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research is near a busy intersection and in the middle of the University of Toronto downtown campus.

The 13-storey glass tower somewhat resembles a tall greenhouse. It is set back from the street and surrounded by heritage buildings, which include the Fitzgerald building of 1927 to the east, and the Roseburgh building of 1921 immediately to the west.

With a gross floor area of 20,600 square metres, the Terrence Donnelly Centre has 10 levels of laboratory space, an animal facility in the basement, and a new loading dock.

Construction costs totalled $68-million, including the tenant fit-up. The centre houses researchers, students and post-doctoral fellows from the medicine, pharmacy, applied science and engineering faculties who are working to find the links between genes and disease. It is an advanced research facility that reflects the university’s status as a world leader in the field of genome research.

To be a leader in research today, institutions need to attract the best minds and competing for personnel is their primary concern. The new facilities were designed therefore to be especially appealing to people. To provide a comfortable and stimulating environment, the labs are open spaces with glass walls providing views outside and in. The university and architectural design team of Architects Alliance and Behnisch Behnisch also wanted the transparent facade so that the building did not hide its purpose as a laboratory from public view. The common areas include an indoor winter garden with tall bamboo and grass landscaping where the researchers can have casual and formal meetings and exchange information. The university also specified that that the lab space and equipment layout are flexible to accommodate researchers doing an increasing variety of case work.

The building is an outstanding example of sustainable design. One of the client’s specific requests was to have nat- ural ventilation. This was provided by a double facade, a feature which is used in Europe but is rare in Canada.

H. H. Angus worked with the architects to design the systems for the double facade. H. H Angus also provided the building services, including the mechanical, electrical, communication and lighting systems. The building systems allow for flexible environmental controls within the guide- lines for laboratories, and at the same time provide a comfortable environment in the support and common spaces.

Natural ventilation through a double facade

In Europe a popular means of reducing energy consumption is to give the occupant choices over their environment; a double facade is one approach. The double facade has two glazed walls separated by about one metre. The interior glazing is typically thermal pane, while the outer pane is usually single or laminated glazing.

The operable windows from the office open into the void between the two panes of glass, while operable vents in the outer skin of the building ventilate the void. If the window is open, the air conditioning to the occupant’s room is turned off and the occupant can let the environment fluctuate to his or her satisfaction.

The natural ventilation at the Terence Donnelly Centre occurs through the double facade on the south side. The double facade rises through all 13 floors without partitions, and acting like a chimney it helps in air circulating, cooling and natural ventilation. Depending on the outside weather conditions the facade may exhaust warmer air at the top while drawing in cooler air at the bottom, or it will act as a thermal sink, collecting heat from the sun in sub-zero conditions.

The stack effect can be controlled with variable dampers at several locations of the facade. The design helps to reduce the cooling and heating loads on the building’s chilled water and heating systems. Blinds in the double facade are inaccessible so they are automated.

Balancing laboratory

environments with individually controlled office spaces

Achieving a sustainable design was complicated by the tremendous divide in the building’s uses — from equipped laboratories on the one hand, to lounge areas on the other. This made the control of the systems complex. The majority area of each floor is open, with moveable furniture and partitions. Each floor has laboratories, laboratory support areas (with a cold room and freezer room), and staff offices and community space. Fume hoods can be added or placed anywhere along the support areas due to the modular design. Open stairs link the floors in the atrium.

The highly controlled laboratory areas are located beside the office and communal meeting spaces, where the occupants control the conditions to suit themselves. In the office and communal spaces the occupants use wall mounted controls for a range of choices, from fully air conditioned, to natural ventilation with no mechanical heating or cooling.

The controls also have to balance the natural ventilation and the effects of the double facade system with the HVAC equipment and systems. The HVAC systems also achieve energy efficiency with features such as heat reclamation from exhaust systems, pre-heating of domestic water, and variable speed fans.

Lighting: blending daylight and fluorescents

The role of lighting to enhance the architecture is visible everywhere. For example, along the wall adjacent to the Roseburgh heritage building, daylight and artificial light were blended. The lighting promotes the growth of tall bamboo lining this main corridor, while minimizing glare for the occupants.

The atrium’s upper level uses spill light from the second floor’s suspended fluorescent fixtures. In-ground and colour-specific metal halide downlights create an inviting atmosphere in the main corridor, and a colourful glass wall is the background for the outdoor lighting accents.

To access overhead lamps in the five-storey Winter Garden, the suspended fixtures were mounted on a hinged bracket that can be swung over and handled from an open window in the adjacent building.

In the laboratories, suspended and louvered direct/indirect luminaires running perpendicular to the lab bench provide an illumination level of 700 Lux (70 foot candles) on the task. The perpendicular arrangement of the fluorescent lights means that reflected glare and veiling reflections are virtually eliminated.

Daylight harvesting integration and controls were provided by dimming the two perimeter rows of fluorescent lighting adjacent to

the east windows; the indoor artificial light is controlled inversely proportional to the outdoor natural light. Energysaving T8 fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts were provided.

Low voltage lighting controls were used for the main labs and corridors. A dimming system was installed in the animal areas of the Department of Comparative Medicine which is on the first level.

Fire Alarm and Security

There are strict standards for controlling the environment of animal colonies used in research. As a result, a fire alarm in the Department of Comparative Medicine is a special type that has an output signal low enough so as not to interfere with the hearing frequency of the animals, and yet able to be heard by the human occupants.

Integrating the security and life safety systems with adjacent buildings was a challenge. There are several interconnections with adjacent buildings. For example, the cafeteria is shared between the centre and the nearby Medical Science Building.

There was a need to provide perimeter security for the Terence Donnelly Centre and yet not compromise access to the surrounding buildings and area. At the same time exiting requirements had to be maintained in case of fire.

Client: University of Toronto

Mechanical, electrical and communications engineer: H. H. Angus and Associates, Toronto (Tom Halpenny, P. Eng., Rod Mons, P. Eng.)

Architects: Architects Alliance, Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner

Structural engineer: Halcrow Yolles

General contractor: Vanbots Construction


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