This article is part of gb&d‘s Green Typologies series In the Workplace.

This oculus is one of many features that helps bring daylight to 75% of the workspaces. An exterior curtainwall opens up the building and provides views of the outdoors. Photo: Tom Arban

This oculus is one of many features that helps bring daylight to 75% of the workspaces. An exterior curtainwall opens up the building and provides views of the outdoors. Photo: Tom Arban

As a public utility provider, Nova Scotia Power is acutely aware of the value of energy. And because executives felt a responsibility to promote sustainable practices when constructing the company’s new offices, plans were hatched for a new headquarters in Halifax that could serve as a symbol of energy conservation and also bolster its relationship with customers, employees, and surroundings. The company hired WZMH Architects and in fall 2011 completed the project, which became the first building in Atlantic Canada to achieve LEED Platinum certification. Interestingly, the new office repurposes a derelict power plant that dates back to 1902. Closed since the 1970s, the building’s adaptive reuse serves as a reminder of the past while gesturing toward the future.

WZMH was charged with adapting the space without introducing any volume outside the building, and it did so while retaining many of the existing elements. “The open structure inside the building created a wonderful space with its exposed steel cage,” says Carl Blanchaer, a design principal at WZMH. “We didn’t want to lose that character.” To preserve the aesthetic, the design team kept the fundamental structural frame within the building intact, allowing for atrium and galleria spaces to be created. The six-story glazed entrance creates sightlines all the way through to Halifax Harbour, even granting direct access to the harbor boardwalk. The harbor itself plays a role; below the building, pipes bring cool seawater into a heat exchanger that powers the building’s mechanical chilled-beam system.

WZMH also freed the former power plant from its windowless existence by sawing into the building’s nearly impervious concrete shell. These new openings permit 75 percent of the workspaces to be daylit, increasing transparency and creating a healthful place to work. Daylight sensors help regulate power consumption, and a high-performance clear curtainwall wraps the structure to insulate the building without obscuring views. To ensure the best air quality, demand-control ventilation was used for the HVAC systems.

LEED Platinum
Site Adaptive reuse of existing building
Waste 87% demolition reused
Water Rainwater collection, heat pumps use water from harbor for heating and cooling
Energy Chilled-beam system, daylighting and daylight sensors, deep seawater cooling, titanium heat exchangers
Air Demand-control ventilation
Landscape Adds an access point adjacent to Halifax harbor
Photo: Tom Arban

Around the atrium, WZMH introduced social spaces. Every floor adjacent to the atrium contains an oasis area where people can gather, get coffee, and interact with one another. Inter-floor stairs adjacent to those respite spots encourage employees to walk between floors rather than taking elevators and take part in these casual encounters. Meeting rooms are grouped around these spaces.

By including entrances for the public on both the street and boardwalk sides of the building, the utility company hopes to create stronger connections with the larger context of its surroundings. “Nova Scotia Power wanted to make the building accessible,” says Harrison Chan, another principal at WZMH. “They didn’t want to be a utility company that wasn’t approachable.” This receptiveness to the public even extends to the company’s cafeteria—it’s open to everyone.

This article is part of gb&d‘s Green Typologies series, which in each issue explores a single type of building. For more of our most recent collection, In the Workplace: Four Innovative Offices, choose from the list below: