Ball’s falls centre for conservation

Passive and active measures a model for small scale design

The east elevation and main entrance

Ball’s Falls Conservation Area is part of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s Nodal Park System - providing public education and awareness of the Niagara Escarpment. The new Centre for Conservation will serve as a public entry point to the 20 Valley World Biosphere Reserve and the preserved heritage settlement. Located adjacent to 20 Mile Creek, on the Bruce Trail near a historic settlement and aboriginal archaeological sites, this project at first appeared to present a difficult design challenge. However, these diverse influences soon began to inform an architectural language for the building: corridors were seen as trails; the building massing became an extension of the existing topography; floors were inspired by dried riverbeds; the interior environment blurred into the exterior atmosphere; and the materials were already present in the remains of the old Balls family mill.
The old water mill became non-functional when the natural watercourse that fed the 20 Mile Creek was altered. The connection between water falling from the sky and the dry river is re-established by the actions of the building. The roof is designed to funnel all the rainwater to perforated rain gutters and on to trench drains at the top of the earth berm and into storage tanks.
An interior viewing well records the water level in the tanks and illustrates the functions of aquifers, at a smaller scale. Excess non¬potable water not drawn from the retention tanks for irrigation or washroom functions drains into a constructed wetland to leach into the soil and finally into 20 Mile Creek.
Each of the four elevations is designed according to its orientation: reduced surface exposure to the north, and tall thermally insulated windows to the south, allowing winter sun-to penetrate deep into the building while long eave extensions shade the interior from the summer sun.
Controlling the amount and intensity of solar heat gain through the design of the building’s envelope provides for other opportunities - heat absorption. The exposed stained and sealed insulated concrete slab-on-grade in the southerly oriented rooms reduces the mechanical heating requirements of those rooms. The conditioned air of the regularly occupied rooms is pulled into the main corridor and mixed with fresh air in the heat recovery ventilator to be reintroduced into the building. Heating and cooling is provided for by a ground source heat exchanger. No fossil fuels or electricity are used for heating purposes.
Many of the locally-produced building materials used also served as the interior finish. These included: stained concrete floors, stained glulam beams, structural insulated panels with their painted interior surfaces, and pigmented concrete block.
The wood for the glulam beams was harvested near the Ontario-Quebec boarder from the previously discarded top portions of the tree not able to be milled into dimensional lumber - 30mm x 30mm individual pieces adhered to make larger structural members. The frame is designed for future disassembly.

Jury comments

This finely detailed Ball’s Falls building, in which the plan and positioning on the site has the interesting feel of a sun dial, has exceptional energy and water efficiency. Sunlight, water conservation and ventilation were all carefully considered in the design which makes a fitting example for a building related not only to environmental conservation, but also for the growing number of small commercial and institutional buildings appearing in southern Ontario that are striving to include qualities of sustainable design in an urban setting. In this regard, the on-site waste water treatment is a commendable feature.

Watch a video of the jury commenting on the project on youtube:


  • Architect: Macdonald Zuberec Ensslen Architects Inc., St.Catharines, ON
  • Owner: Developer: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Welland, ON
  • General Contractor: Merit Contractors Niagara, St.Catharines, ON
  • Landscape Architect: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Welland, ON
  • Civil Engineer: MTE, Kitchener, ON
  • Electrical | Mechanical Engineer: Enermodal Engineering, Kitchener, ON
  • LEED Consultant: Enermodal Engineering, Kitchener, ON
  • Structural Engineer: Lee Yung & Associates Inc., Burlington, ON
  • Commissioning Agent: Enermodal Engineering, Kitchener, ON
  • Photos: Stephen Dominick Studio, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON


  • Structure: Glulam structural frame, structural insulated panels by Thermapan for external walls and roof, pigmented concrete block.
  • Exterior: Fibre cement lap siding, prefinished wood siding, local stone; standing seam metal roof by VicWest; low-e argon double-glazed windows in aluminum frames.
  • HVAC: Heat recovery ventilator, ground-source heat pump, radiant slab heating at glazed perimeter areas; Honeywell building controls | dual flush toilets and waterless urinals, three 43,000 litre cisterns, Waterloo Bio-filter Systems septic treatment.
  • Interior: In situ concrete floors stained and epoxy sealed by Niagara Protective Coatings; Sansin Enviro Stain on interior and exterior wood.
  • Building gross floor area: 1,190sq.m

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