After planning the infrastructure, developing the public realm and parks, determining the building massing and external design, and incorporating efficiency and sustainability features into building function, one of the most important aspects of the new homes developed at Millennium Water was still left to be determined: the approach to the interior design of the residential suites.
“We wanted to deliver a green product without compromising style or design,” says Adele Rankin who was the lead interior designer from CHIL on this project. The interior design concept and approach is to provide a contemporary and international look while focusing specifically on environmentally conscious products and ideals. Meanwhile, the designers did not want to impose on residents. “The interior design provides a luxurious and elegant backdrop for the individual homeowner to present their own style,” says Shahram Malek, co-owner of Millennium.
Given Millennium Water’s almost 1,100 suites and more than 10 lobbies, the scale of this project was quite different from other projects that primarily focus on one main public space and fewer units. The process of planning the suites was very collaborative, as space planners, architects and the developer worked together on hundreds of layouts for more than a year. “The team was very large, larger than I’ve ever experienced,” says Harvey Reehal, Principal Director of Inform Projects, which specializes in kitchens and bathrooms. “Everyone had to work together. We listened to each other, discussed and modified.” “In working with many different architects and consultants it was necessary to ensure that, although the building design varied, the interior design remained a constant thread throughout,” adds Rankin. “It was important to ensure that all buildings received the same attention and focus on design excellence.”
What is FSC Certified?
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization established to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC’s model of certification allows products sourced from certified forests to enter the marketplace with a credential that is unique. Any FSC-labelled product can be traced back to a certified source. This aspect of the system is the basis for any credible certification system and is the link between consumer preference and responsible, on the ground forest management.
This project was different from other interior design projects, with a major difference being the project’s objective of qualifying for LEED™ Gold certification for sustainable design. “While we always endeavour to be environmentally conscious in our selections and designs, ordinarily this doesn’t always remain the most important aspect due to budgetary concerns, client preferences or availability,” says Rankin. “We were able to keep our original selections in this project as everyone involved agreed on and encouraged the LEED™ objective.”
All products in the suites and the public spaces were selected and designed with sustainability at the forefront. For example, all appliances are EnergyStar, all plumbing fixtures are water-efficient, the paint is low VOC (volatile organic compounds,)which improves indoor air quality and reduces urban smog as compared to paints with higher levels of VOC, the carpet is 100% wool, the engineered wood flooring and the kitchen cabinets are FSC certified (see sidebar) and the countertops are made of quartz. All of this helped achieve the LEED™ Gold certification.
Open Space, Natural Light and Air Flow
The suites at the Olympic Village are planned around the concept of an open living lifestyle. This means there is more open space, offering a sense of casualness. “People are not living in closed rooms like they used to,” says Mona Foreman of Sheffield Design, the space planner for the suites. “Even though we are opening it up, I was also trying to carve a space where you could still define areas that give a sense of intimacy and comfort. The main function is making a space feel really good.
“The kitchen is the hub of a home, so we wanted this to be an open space but have a layout that helps divide the space as well,” says Foreman. Every layout has a large island that separates the preparation area of the kitchen from the dining room or family room or living room. The “west coast living” concept, which emphasizes views and leaves living space open to a suite’s view opportunities, was also part of the design concept.
One of the criteria for the interior design was to have as much natural light coming into the unit as possible. “I was always thinking about how we can get the best light,” says Forman. “We wanted it to be bright even on a rainy day.” This also reduces the need to turn on lights, improving energy efficiency. In these suites, windows open so there is a natural flow of air through the unit. “The layout was developed so you would have all the amenities you have in a house, such as a patio in the back, and a back door that goes to an exit staircase. Having both physical and visual access on both sides would give you the essence of feeling like you are living in a house,” says Foreman.
Efficiencies for Marketability
With hundreds of building design layouts, offering only three colour schemes and eight kitchen layouts for 737 homes helped keep the designs consistent and create efficiencies. “It was much more manageable to inform consumers during the marketing phase,” says Bob Rennie, Principal of Rennie Marketing Systems, the firm handling sales of the suites. Throughout the project, bathroom and kitchen sizes created a brand standard – for example, most master bedrooms have ensuite baths. “We didn’t want to overwhelm people with too many variations and we had to select a very high-end spec as we were building all 737 at once with no customizing allowed,” says Rennie.
Appliances and Kitchens for Marketability and Sustainability
“Vancouver consumers are extremely intelligent. If you’re asking a premium dollar they need premium product,” says Harvey Reehal, Principal Director of Inform Projects. The suites have name brand appliances such as SubZero fridges. “We’re wearing green like jewelry,” explains Rennie. “It really looks good but I need mainstream to incorporate green initiatives; I need ‘Sub-Zero’ to come out and say they have solved something in the energy department. Then I’ve got name brands doing it. When you’re selling condos at a million bucks people want name brand.”
All of the kitchens were imported from Germany. When asked about sourcing appliances locally, Reehal explains that “kitchens and bathrooms are a commodity and we don’t yet have a local industry that provides the high quality appliances that people want. In Europe, they build longer lasting products… they have a culture of design that relies on technology that is not available in North America.” Reehal says Europe often not only provides higher quality products with sophisticated design, but also produces less manufacturing waste. “In Europe, the machinery is much more efficient with material. I would guess that you can hold in your hand the amount of waste from a 10×8 foot unit,” says Reehal. He says their durability supports sustainable goals. “The products are not inexpensive but they are a premium product designed to last 50 years. The aesthetics are classic and neutral and with high quality material you will find low replacement.”
Innovative Air Ducting
New design solutions in this project included air ducting that would save energy. A fresh air duct, which is common in a kitchen, loses a lot of heat. This innovative air duct directs the air from the fresh air duct to the fridge cavity, heating the air and releasing it into the kitchen through a venting system underneath the fridge.
The main constraints or design challenges revolved around the overall scale of the project and timeline. All buildings required concepts, working drawings and onsite presence in overlapping time frames, which was an unusual challenge. “Remaining consistent in design throughout and providing the needed attention to the clients, the consultants and the contractors was a constant requirement.
Also challenging was meeting everyone’s expectations that such a high profile project brings, from Millennium’s desire for outstanding design, to the architect’s hope for design integration, to the consultant’s requirements for collaboration, to the marketing department’s need for a sellable product – and achieving an interior that the City can be proud to showcase to the world,” explains Rankin.
Setting a Precedent
“The most exciting aspect of this design is the precedent it sets in our community, not only with those involved – such as the developer and designers – but also with the general public. Our hope is to build recognition that there does not need to be a choice between good design and environmentally sensitive products,” says Rankin.
“Although it was a challenge at times to have the industry understand this, in the end we were able to have a great deal of innovation presented in terms of materials and overall design.”
Bob Rennie comments, “I believe this is the model that everyone is going to watch. The Olympic Village is going to show that the consumer in a higher-end demographic values green and that name brands and green do not have to be mutually exclusive.”