Location Montréal, Québec
Size 2,500 ft²
Program Private residence
Client Sabine Karsenti, F
Architect RAK & RAK
Designer Gervais Fortin
General Contractor F
Landscape Architect Creation Natur Eden
Solar Specialists DVC
When Sabine Karsenti and her husband were having their first child, they became particularly aware of the harmful effects the built environment can have on people—especially kids. “I wanted to demonstrate that it is possible to build an ecological house without sacrificing the contemporary design,” Karsenti says. “Having just had our first child, and knowing children are more vulnerable to environmental toxins, we were particularly sensitive, so we decided to build an eco-friendly home to the best of our abilities.”
Now the house, called Écologia Montréal, is the first single-dwelling home in Montréal seeking LEED Platinum certification. Initially, the couple thought mostly about typical sustainable technologies. Behind the imposing limestone façade, which was harvested from a local quarry, is a stunningly energy-efficient home: the house is structured from partially recycled insulating concrete forms, has eco-friendly glass windows with an R-value of 9, and has a fiberglass green roof, which serves as the couple’s vegetable garden and has a life cycle of more than 100 years. Inside, hemp and limestone walls are free of gypsum or paint, upping the air quality of the indoor spaces.
But as Karsenti and her husband began the design process and investigated new building systems, the couple decided that LEED simply wasn’t enough. “We realized the project wasn’t just about building green,” Karsenti says. “We wanted to know, ‘Can you go one step ahead and have a habitat that is actually rejuvenating?’” Ultimately, the couple decided to use the house as a laboratory for green and healthful building practices and explore previously unmapped territories of urban life.
Certification LEED Platinum (expected)
Water Rainwater captured for irrigation, water filtration system
Materials Concrete insulating forms, high-performance glass
Energy Rooftop solar panels, radiant floors and showers, geothermal HVAC
Landscape Populated with native plants
Envelope Sealed to block electromagnetic fields
Electromagnetic fields were a major concern for the couple. “We’re downtown, so we have around 500 cell-phone antennae within a mile radius, and they emit invisible waves that studies have shown can be damaging,” Karsenti says. To block them, the couple put black carbon fiber paint on all of the interior walls, behind the hemp wall coverings, and avoided the use of wi-fi in the house.
Écologia Montréal is also the first house in Québec to integrate biogeometry, an environmental science that addresses the relationship between shapes and energy. Founded by Egyptian architect and scientist Ibrahim Karim after more than 30 years of research, it seeks to provide balance within a space using what Karim believes are the energy-qualities of different shapes.
Karsenti’s husband, who goes by just the letter F, did the bulk of the initial design work, after which the couple hired Montréal designer Gervais Fortin to add the finishing touches. “It’s quite an innovative project in that it’s both eco-friendly and modern in design,” Karsenti says. “That’s been done in the United States, but here in Québec, people associate eco-friendly with hippie living and consider it aesthetically displeasing. Fortin’s work was stunning.”
The resulting showcase is, in fact, stunning, but it was not without its challenges, namely the habits of contractors who were used to doing things a certain way. She remembers the project’s electricians not taking electromagnetic fields into consideration because they never had. “We wanted all wiring to be captured in BX piping to minimize electromagnetic fields,” Karsenti says, “but when we tried to explain that to people who’d been doing electricity for 30 years, they questioned our knowledge; they assumed they were doing it the right way.”
What isn’t questioned is that the home’s innovative green design harmonizes the space. “When people come in here, they say they feel good, but they don’t know why,” Karsenti says. “It’s hard to know. Is it the hemp on the walls? Is it the blocked EMFs? Is it the biogeometry? But there’s just something about the house that makes people feel relaxed.”