The Greening of Science

A biomolecular-research center by Behnisch Architects shows off its sustainable features.

The new Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research at the University of Toronto certainly doesn’t hide its green side. Although many of its energy-saving features may be invisible, stands of vegetation woven into its interior offer a telltale welcome to anyone who steps inside. The structure is squeezed between two historic buildings on a narrow lot in downtown Toronto, and the first of its gardens is experienced as soon as you’re through the front door: a five-story glass atrium planted with bamboo and bordered by benches made of trees from the site connects the new structure to the 1919 Rosebrugh Building, creating a space that feels halfway between indoors and out. Open stairways link each of the 12 floors, and stacked winter gardens with casual seating span two to three levels.

The building was designed by Toronto’s Architects Alliance in partnership with Germany’s Behnisch Architects—firms that share an interest in sustainability. “We asked ourselves, What can we do within a given budget to make the building as sustainable as possible?” Architects Alliance principal Adrian DiCastri says. “We made the building sort of ‘light green’ within a conventional framework.” That approach involved layering as many energy-saving features into the $89 million project as possible rather than starting out with performance as the driving objective. The resulting features range from simple steps—like operable windows and fritted glass with patterns resembling DNA sequences to reduce solar heat gain—to more elaborate interventions, such as separate mechanical systems for labs and offices, naturally ventilated public spaces, and a double glass facade along the south wall to help prevent heat spikes.

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