Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning

Largest child health research tower in the world designed for intensification and collaboration

High-performance fully glazed envelope with bird-friendly frit pattern, low-VOC interior products, rainwater capture, and 30% energy cost savings, this exceptional LEED Gold building attracts top researchers.

By Mike Szabo

The story of sustainable design at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto has as much to do with form as function. At 21 storeys, it is the largest child health research tower in the world and represents a new typology for high-rise laboratories.

A ‘whole building’ approach to sustainable design addresses five key areas of human and environmental health:

  • • sustainable site development that diverts 75% of waste from landfill
  • • water efficiency that produces a 50% reduction in water use
  • • energy efficiency measures that target a 38% reduction in energy use
  • • materials selection that includes 22.5% recycled content for new construction materials
  • • improved indoor environmental quality from low VOC-emitting products

This comprehensive approach was the strategy to achieve LEED Gold certification for a building type well known for its high energy demands due to high air change rates in laboratories. As sustainable infrastructure, the project is exemplary of efficient land use and high-density development that consolidates the hospital’s research programs previously dispersed throughout the Discovery District in downtown Toronto.

As urban centres grow, new strategies and typologies for intensification will be the next challenge for architects, engineers and constructors. These buildings must not only be energy efficient but also be conducive to a collaborative work environment, which, for the Gilgan Centre, was a major impetus for bringing 2,000 researchers together under one roof. Every major design decision considered these two objectives equally – how to make the building more energy efficient and how to engage its occupants in a healthy, naturally lit environment where synergies could flourish.

The tower’s high-performance glazing plays multiple roles to achieve this goal. It is 80% covered in a horizontal graduated ceramic frit.  While the frit plays an intrinsic part in the thermal control and daylight harvesting strategy, it also provides a unifying coherence and contrasts the portion of vision glass meant to give exposure to the activity within. By incorporating this significant amount of frit, the extent of exterior vision glazing was increased by 20%; this allows access to natural light to over 90% of the program areas.

During early design, the team worked to develop spandrel panels with additional thermal resistance value to optimize the building envelope, while maintaining the characteristic exterior look of the building. The bird-friendly frit pattern on the exterior glazing was specifically designed to optimize occupants’ connection to the outdoors while controlling glare and maintaining the performance of the envelope.

In the labs, permanent support spaces are located in the core, freeing up floor space and the perimeter for a light-filled work environment. Given the laboratory function, operable windows were not selected for the tower. However, on average 3.1 ACH is provided to the space, designing to the minimum ASHRAE 62.1 ventilation standard. Fresh air is provided to occupants and balanced with reducing overall energy consumption. The designed Energy Use Intensity [EUI] for the project is 427 kWh/m2, which is low for a laboratory building of this scale. The project exceeds its 2030 design target of 583 kWh/m2 and dramatically lower than the 2006 industry benchmark of 1,165 kWh/m2. The average lighting power density is 8.5 W/m2.

Designed to achieve a 30% energy cost improvement over ASHRAE 90.1, performance and future operational integrity are the hallmarks of the building’s design. The project implemented many energy saving strategies, such as energy recovery on the building’s air handlers, heat recovery for fume hood exhaust in laboratories and heat recovery from dedicated laboratory chillers operating year round. Other measures include a comprehensive CO2 monitoring system, occupant controls and sensors and high-efficiency lighting.

The building taps into the Enwave district heating network with provision for Enwave’s deep lake water cooling. The district steam network reduces building level equipment maintenance and associated environmental concerns such as stack pollution and greenhouse gases. The modelled annual energy consumption is approximately 1,530 MJ/m2.

The roof area of the Gilgan Centre and two large cisterns collect and store rainwater that is used for the conveyance of wastewater. Supported with low-flow fixtures, rainwater harvesting reduces the overall use of potable water in the building by almost 60% compared to standard building design. The projected potable water consumption is 3.25 m3/occupant/annum.

A stacked sequence of two- and three-storey-high collaborative spaces protrudes from the east facade above Bay Street in curvilinear form. It is within these areas with panoramic views of the city skyline that a sense of neighbourhood is created to foster interdisciplinary exchange away from the lab benches. Convenience stairs within each allowed for the number of elevator shafts in the building to be reduced from eight to six, adding commensurate energy and space savings.

The Gilgan Centre is a landmark facility that provides the hospital with signature branding and heightened awareness. It connects directly to the hospital via pedestrian overpass. This LEED Gold certified laboratory sets a standard for energy efficiency and sustainable infrastructure in Toronto’s Discovery District, which serves as well as a calling card for the recruitment of top talent for the ongoing challenge of improving children’s health outcomes.

Project Credits

  • Owner Hospital for Sick Children
  • Architect Diamond Schmitt Architects Inc.
  • Associate architect HDR Inc.
  • Structural engineer Halcrow Yolles
  • Mechanical Engineer H.H. Angus  & Associates Ltd.
  • Electrical Engineer H.H. Angus & Associates Ltd.
  • Landscape Architect du Toit Allsop Hillier
  • Cost Consultant Hanscomb Limited
  • Code Consultant Leber rubes & Associates Ltd.
  • Sustainability Consultant  Cobalt/Integral Group Inc.
  • General Contractor Ellis Don
  • Photos Tom Arban

Mike Szabo OAA, MRAIC, LEED AP, AIBC [Architect] is with Diamond Schmitt Architects.


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