Interview with

Alex Speigel


Alex Speigel, partner at Windmill Developments, believes that the greenest buildings are actually conversions. With Arch Lofts [www.archlofts.com], they’re transforming a century-old church into condos in a downtown area of Toronto known as the Junction Triangle.

1. Windmill Developments is known for its sustainably designed projects, but with the Zibi project in Ottawa/Gatineau, and now this one, is it devoting more of its work to site and building rehabilitation?
We are committed to development within urban boundaries that stays well connected to transit, so many of these sites involve working with existing buildings. In some ways, the greenest building is one which already exists - since the new project will retain the embodied energy that is part of the existing structure, not sending the building to landfill. As a result, adaptive re-use projects like Arch Lofts supports Windmill’s mandate and commitment to build sustainably with the added bonus of bringing renewed relevance to older buildings.

2. What is the scope of the Arch Lofts?
Arch Lofts consists of two interlinked buildings.  The original Church building is a 100 year-old heritage structure designed by renowned Toronto architect George Miller, who also designed Massey Hall and Havergal College. The Church will hold 26 residential suites, effectively “building a building inside a building.”  Insulation is being carefully added to the inside face of the massive brick walls and new energy-efficient windows are being inserted into the original masonry openings. We are also erecting a new building on the former parking lot with 13 units, called the Vestry - which will also include the new underground parking and the geo-exchange field below grade.

3. How do you generally approach the upgrade of a 100-year old building to modern building standards or beyond, such as R2000 or LEED?
We are targeting the Toronto Green Standards, Tier 2 level as well as the HPNC [High Performance for New Construction] standard. We are upgrading the insulation levels of the envelope with new spray insulation - but one has to be careful not to over insulate since it may cause damage to masonry. The original envelope provides great thermal mass to regulate swings in exterior temperature and the new insulation provides additional insulation as well as moisture protection to prevent higher levels of humidity from penetrating the old walls. Individual suites have energy recovery ventilators [ERVs] which provide superior levels of fresh air to the units. The geo-thermal field below ground provides a low-carbon solution for heating a cooling by using the Earth’s energy for heating in winter and cooling in summer.

4. What do you do with materials salvaged from the old building and how do you minimize waste?
Materials were re-used as much as possible and the balance recycled.  The pews were given to a wood worker to produce a wide variety of furniture with the wood. We even found a new home for the organ, which was originally made by Cassavantes Freres from Quebec. It was carefully dismantled and re-installed in a church in Markham.

5. What philosophy are you trying to project in taking on rehab projects like this which can be complicated by higher costs and the prevailing density of an establish urban area?

There are definitely higher costs associated with projects like this and higher risks due to the many unknown factors. However there is worth within these beautiful, old structures that provide the value proposition: better neighbourhood acceptance during the approval process, grandfathering of the height and density inherent in the existing building and strong demand from purchasers that value the unique one-of-a-kind suites that are created. It’s a balance – and ultimately the market has responded very positively to the integrity we’ve built into every project.

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