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Integrated Design Process: The KickOff

In order to achieve a task of such magnitude, the team needed to set a clear path to success. To do this, it employed an approach known as the “integrated design process” (IDP). The goal of this process is to bring all members of a design team together to explore synergies, generate solutions, and, in general, to improve the efficiency of the design and the design process. The IDP encourages a holistic “systems-based” approach to design from initial conception through to construction. The necessity of collaboration brought on by the sustainability targets increased the level of innovation applied to the project’s design.

The purpose of the SEFC Integrated Design Process kickoff meeting was to build consensus and establish a common vision for the project. Organized by Vancouver-based not-for-profit Light House Sustainable Building Centre, more than 80 people participated in the kickoff meeting. Participants ranged from design team members to municipal staff to seasoned “guest” experts in sustainable development. The IDP kickoff was a two-day event sponsored by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation that took place in Vancouver in April 2006. The workshop was led by Bill Reed, an internationally recognized sustainability practitioner who works as a consultant, design process facilitator and lecturer.


The two-day intensive Integrated Design Process kickoff with CMHC and Light House Sustainable Building Centre that saw close to 100 building industry professionals under one roof. Sarah Hay, 2006

The IDP workshop focused on site design and structure, buildings and their systems, and infrastructure. Team-building exercises involved identifying critical green building and site design goals and objectives, flagging critical design issues and streamlining the design process by establishing common values. Eight teams were created, each including a balanced sample of representatives. After introducing integrated design, systems thinking and sustainability, site-specific topics were assigned to each group who then investigated and reported on common points and differences of opinion. Key concepts were developed in the pre-design activity, which were then incorporated into all aspects of the design, construction and commissioning process. Participants generated a schedule of defined priorities and delegated tasks to move the project forward.


IDP Kickoff. Sarah Hay, 2006

The key outcomes of the IDP kickoff event were:

  • establishing a core management team to incorporate the goals and metrics,
  • committing to develop an indicator feedback system and a range of performance targets for energy, water, materials and other areas and
  • adopting benchmarks including “net-zero” energy use, greenhouse gas neutrality and other parameters to maximize sustainability.

Building Form and Programming

New Ways of Living in a City

The design team’s desire to demonstrate “new ways of living in a city” influenced the focus and direction of Millennium’s rezoning submission for the Olympic Village site. In response to the City’s ODP, the team set out to find a new paradigm that would balance urban lifestyle and well-being with a “respectful sense of the planet, its resources and climate.” In terms of building form, this played out in the effort to incorporate a sense of open space into a dense residential development. The team proposed “vertical streets,” where the experiences of a neighbourhood sidewalk – greenery, fresh air and a sense of community –– are shifted to the upper levels of the buildings. This would be achieved by creating accessible green spaces on terraces, roofs and courtyards.


The SEFC public plaza was planned to be a large open space and an important community amenity. This drawing captures a moment in time before the detailed design of the plaza had been developed. Merrick Architecture, 2006

The rezoning proposal suggested a number of significant refinements to the massing, heights and programming suggested in the ODP. The changes supported the design team’s interest in improving views, enhancing the public and private realms and maximizing sustainable design initiatives. One of the major changes, supported by a stakeholder consultation process, involved changing the location of the community centre. Slated to occupy waterfront property, the planned location of the community centre was at the northwestern edge of the site. The rezoning proposal shifted the community centre to the northeastern waterfront edge, where it retained proximity to planned boating facilities, had better access to parking and would be integrated with the waterfront park and public plaza. The northwestern parcel was reprogrammed to accommodate the development of two “showcase” residential buildings, designed by architects Arthur Erickson and Nick Milkovich.

Besides residential development and community amenities, this mixed-use community was to accommodate 82,000 square feet of commercial space, according to the ODP. The retail strategy focused on providing “a broad range of retail goods and services that effectively serve the essential needs of the SEFC community.” The proposed key commercial anchor tenants would be a supermarket, a drugstore and a liquor store, comprising approximately half of the commercial floor area. Smaller tenants would include two restaurants, a specialty food store, a video store, specialty retail and personal and professional services. Sidewalk widths were to be in the range of 10-12 feet to allow adequate space for business activity to spill out onto the street. The diversity of retail options supported the vision of a self-sufficient community.


This south elevation drawing illustrates the close connection between the low- and mid-rise buildings and the waterfront and public plaza. GBL Architects Inc.

Passive Design

Passive design uses a building’s form and orientation to reduce energy consumption and improve thermal comfort. The passive design approach reduces reliance on mechanical systems and improves the quality of the indoor environment. Examples include improved insulation to reduce heat loss, enhanced natural lighting to reduce electricity loads and effective shading to reduce reliance on mechanical air conditioning.

Building Design that Responds to the Local Climate

In their analysis of energy reduction strategies, the Millennium Water team looked at how to best design the buildings to respond to their environment within the existing site and climatic constraints. Four areas were explored:

  • Building orientation, massing and configuration – addressed in early energy studies and building configuration schemes.
  • Façade treatments – protecting buildings and helping them respond to rain, wind and solar radiation through balconies, screens, window areas and views.
  • Quality envelope options – envelopes should eliminate heat loss and increase air tightness to maximize insulation effectiveness.
  • Building mass – materials can be chosen based on their ability to influence heat gain and loss. For example, concrete slabs absorb heat and release it over time.

City of Vancouver Encourages Passive Design

This project paved the way for future sustainable design in Vancouver through an unprecedented agreement between the City and the developer. To encourage passive design strategies such as thicker walls for improved insulation, wider stairwells and corridors for daylighting, and deeper balconies for shading, the City granted area exclusions for any additional floor area required to meet passive design requirements. The developer was thus able to include passive strategies without forfeiting developable (and saleable) area.


Shading is a key passive design strategy that can be achieved by incorporating balcony overhangs, plants and trees, and active blind systems. Merrick Architecture, 2006

Housing Mix: “Modest Market” Housing

One of the provisions in the SEFC Official Development Plan was to develop a mixed-use neighbourhood that accommodates a diversity of residents with a range of incomes. This goal supports the aspiration of maintaining a sense of balance and promoting social equity. Market condominiums would be complemented by the development of “affordable” (subsidized) housing and “modest market” housing. Modest market housing refers to a middle ground between regular market and affordable housing. For the purposes of this project, modest market came to refer to rental housing, which would welcome a demographic that is not in the position to purchase but is not eligible for subsidized housing.

In their rezoning proposal, Millennium brought back the notion of modest market housing that the new Council had removed from SEFC’s housing requirements. In return for this additional housing type, the neighbourhood’s social mix was augmented and Millennium received bonus density. Under the original plan, The City of Vancouver would pay for the construction of 50 units and Millennium would build another 82 units in two rental buildings. Initially, it was proposed to mix rental housing in and among the regular market units. However, upon exploration, the team discovered that mixing unit types would cause legal complexities in terms of the strata ownership agreements. The modest market units will be available for rent for a set term. Following a 20-year period, Millennium will have the option to sell the units or continue the rental program.

This wireframe drawing illustrates the mix of market housing, modest market housing and affordable housing that was proposed in the August 2006 rezoning. GBL Architects Inc., 2006.enlarge

This wireframe drawing illustrates the mix of market housing, modest market housing and affordable housing that was proposed in the August 2006 rezoning. GBL Architects Inc., 2006.

Vancouver’s Urban Design Panel

It Takes a Village to Design a Village

copy credit: Scot Hein, Architect and Senior Urban Designer, City of Vancouver


This axonometric view of Vancouver's Olympic Village captures the dense mid-rise building typologies, inner courtyards, community centre, active waterway and bustling pedestrian spaces. GBL Architects Inc., 2006

The design challenge of delivering a combination of high densities at the prescribed low- and mid-rise scale of building at Millennium Water was daunting, especially with an aggressive project schedule driven by Olympic commitments. Given this time constraint, the City lacked sufficient time to prepare design guidelines that typically inform use, density, form of development and character, and generally facilitate the design development process. The City’s Urban Design Panel was therefore critical in identifying effective, approvable design strategies through their leadership in a series of collegial design workshops. The Urban Design Panel is a group of appointed individuals representing the City’s design, engineering and development community. The panel gives impartial and professional advice to City staff and Council on any proposal, policy or large development affecting Vancouver’s physical environment.

Early Urban Design Panel sessions for Millennium Water focused on form and scale, including the proposed courtyard formats, which were uncommon in Vancouver’s residential market. Given the village’s “green ethics,” the panel was also able to offer specific technical solutions to building, landscape and engineering challenges. With respect to the question of character and expression, the panel sought design responses that were “distinctly Vancouver” in character. Their key question, “What is authentic placemaking?”, became the focus of later workshop sessions, noting the challenge of delivering an innovative 21st century green community, in the west coast Canadian context, on a prominent waterfront site with a rich industrial history, under the auspices of a single developer in such a short period of time.

The Urban Design Panel’s advice, and the creative response from Millennium’s architects and landscape architects, was critical to the invention of a contemporary building expression that was borne out of planning, shared sustainable values and historical identity. The creative results produced distinct buildings, articulated as a series of smaller components (to manage “superblock” scale), expressive of passive green systems and human activity, all contributing to the village’s identity.

Ten Design Principles

The following principles, introduced by Stu Lyon of GBL Architects at a session of the Urban Design Panel, helped delineate non-prescriptive design “constraints.” The principles would guide the group of architects toward a cohesive neighbourhood design.

Exposed circulation
Social opportunity
Useful stairs
View down to street
View into the building
Green edges to circulation

Daylight from two sides of each home, apartment or townhouse
Daylight to as many rooms as possible
Daylight to circulation

Corner or through suites wherever possible
Large or multiple opening windows
Open corridors where possible

Corridors with green edges where possible
Suite entry doors with presence
Corridors with daylighting where possible

Solar screening on south and west sides
Bigger windows on north sides
Smaller windows or shading on bright sides
Acknowledge different types of view
Differences between bottom and top

Space for table and chairs
Privacy control
Integrated with unit layout

Private street/public street response
East side/west side response

Interior amenity spaces that are integrally connected to common outdoor space
Amenity spaces are creatively designed
Amenity spaces are integrally associated with circulation and preferably with vertical streets
Amenity spaces are the “public plazas” of the interior circulation

Every floor in every building should have a common outlook over outdoor green space in concert with common access to natural daylight

Daylighting via skylights, stairs and light wells should be provided to underground areas wherever possible