9 Purposeful Design
There are many ways in which our research participants discussed being purposeful about design. This extended from the design of intentional supportive programming, to designing for mental health and wellness, to the approach for environmental sustainability that Indwell has begun to use in their housing design: the Passive House design standard. Steven Rolfe spoke about the importance of all of these coming together to create Indwell’s model/approach:
In addition to the environmental considerations or design considerations for accessible, comfortable, manageable spaces, there’s also the whole human side. This includes facilitating goal setting, working with people in developing independent living skills, personal management, and health care management.
One of the things that distinguished the Indwell Supportive Affordable Housing Model/Approach was the purposeful design that came together within the service design and the creation of the physical spaces.
Intentional Supportive Service Design
Figure 7: Original Collage by Shannon Pirie and Bethany Osborne
As we discussed design with our research participants, it became clear that it was not just physical design that played an important role in the success of Indwell programs. Intentional design plays a role long after tenants arrive at an Indwell site and has an impact on their activities of daily living. Part of that has to do with the kind of support that tenants need, and the need varies depending on the site (i.e. the Strathearne Suites and Parkdale Landing sites provide more support than the Perkins Centre program because of the needs of the tenants). Graham Cubitt talked about the supports in the buildings “[ranging] depending on which one of [the buildings] someone is in, including instrumental support with finances and community integration” (interview transcript). Jeff Neven speaks to the importance of the supportive service design from an historical perspective:
In the early days of Indwell (1970s), people weren’t necessarily coming to us for the affordability, although it was that too It was really around the supports. But there is now such a lack of affordability that the market has to offer and there is a growing gap between people’s housing costs and ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program), that our tenants seek both.
Steven Rolfe spoke to the importance of being intentional in delivering services. For him, he said, it is not so much about whether the academic literature backs him up, it’s something that he has seen with his own eyes. If you do not follow up with tenants who have multiple challenges, they won’t do as well. People always have the option to opt out of support, but they know it is there:
Jury’s out on which particular model of supportive housing is most effective, but we’ve already got randomized control studies on around it, for example Pathways to Housing, all the Housing First data. It all basically says that if people go live in housing and you follow up with meaningful support, they do better. This means that they don’t go back to jail, they don’t go back to hospital, they tend to stay housed, and they tend to do better health-wise and personally. This is crucial to what Indwell is, so the design is a pretty good place to start. You also have to follow up with the supports. If you’re going to have folks with multiple challenges, you have to follow up with a knock on the door and say, “How are you doing, we care about you.” We’ve been clear about that with our perspective tenants, because this environment is not for everybody. We let people know that we’re attentive, we are not going to ignore you, we are going to knock on your door. This is a community, this is a place where people want to feel like they belong and that they are safe, and we’re going to check on how you are doing.
For Graham Cubitt, it is significant to remember that the people within the Indwell programs are independent tenants, and so service delivery needs to be designed around that premise:
It’s all about independence – people are independent tenants; it’s not a group home. We don’t lock the doors at a certain time. There is no curfew, so people are independent. They can live their lives. If you look around, you can see we do have security cameras in the building. It’s important to tenants that we have them for their security. It’s really unsettling when we are dealing with people needing higher levels of support just how often people have not had confidence in their own security.
For Bruce McLean, Housing Development Officer, from Affordable Housing at the City of Hamilton, this type of approach is an emerging one, and comes with its own challenges because neither the Federal nor Provincial governments specifically fund program supports:
I think what we are seeing is program space tied into the residential component, now that’s often a challenge to finance because housing programs of the province and federal government don’t necessarily fund the programs and supports that would go with the housing. But when it can be done, and Indwell has done it, and Good Shepherd has done it and other groups are trying to do it, then you just see the value of program space. For example, this might be a daycare, senior supports, café – being a part of the same complex.
Indwell creatively draws from different sources of funding including the Ministry of Health to support their tenants, but there is not one source of funding that provides for both the physical building and the program supports (Graham Cubitt, interview transcript).
For Jess Brand, one of the most significant things about the Indwell housing is that it is permanent housing. With many of the tenants moving into Indwell buildings from temporary spaces, or from years of housing insecurity, this can be a difficult adjustment, but one that they are willing to work at to keep:
I think that one of the really, really, significant things about working with Indwell is that it is permanent housing. This makes a big difference for people in finally achieving housing stability. It also indirectly creates a challenge: once people move in they don’t quickly leave. They want to stay because it’s become home. This means that we don’t have turn-over, so we need more housing to help more people. As a result, we are always looking for new housing development possibilities. The waiting lists for supportive housing are just so long.
And for Steven Rolfe, that long-term commitment to tenants is key. It provides an opportunity to walk alongside tenants, particularly as they struggle with complex issues such as mental health:
It makes total sense to have longer term relationships with folks that have longer term health issues, because those are going to be around for a long time. Having a stable relationship with people is key.
Jess Brand illustrated the importance of that relationship as she described an interaction with a tenant who was struggling to pay his rent:
We seek to work with tenants to problem-solve about why they were getting behind on their rent. We know our rent is affordable with their income. And we talk to them about budgeting. This might entail working with them to figure out what organizations out there can help with finances. Or maybe they just made some poor decisions and then we make plans with them to catch-up.
It’s different from some of the tenant experiences we’ve witnessed at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB). We’ve seen tenants who have never met their landlord or the person who cares for their building they are in conflict with. They don’t know that person at all, and that person doesn’t know them. In contrast, we are sitting there with our tenant and we have a plan together for what we’re going to agree to. We’re at the LTB just because we need somebody to officially recognize the agreement for us. Our approach worked with this person to continue to rent their apartment and retain stability.
In addition to the relationship, are the important elements that go into the design of spaces that promote both mental health and wellness.
Designing for Mental Health and Wellness
Figure 8: Original collage by Shannon Pirie and Bethany Osborne
There are many elements that combine to create spaces that promote good mental health and wellness. Steven Rolfe spoke to the importance of physical design to the Indwell team in his interview:
Why wouldn’t we build a place that we would want to live in ourselves? Why wouldn’t we create an environment where people are well cared for? That’s an extension of our values.
In the following section, we examine the intentional design that Indwell and Invizij architects have integrated into their design to promote mental health and wellness. These include accessibility, light, transformed physical spaces, responsive design and creating choice.
For Bruce McLean from the Affordable Housing Division at the City of Hamilton, it is these design elements that sets Indwell apart as an affordable housing provider:
The unique merging of design and programming connected through the ‘lens’ of mental health services is what I see Indwell doing. They have multiple projects, or programs and someone can come into them depending on where they’re at in life and with their health. It’s part of Parkdale and part of Strathearne’s design model, so that’s a game changer; it’s great to see.
Accessibility is a key element of design integrated into all Indwell buildings. There are building standards set by the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act), but Indwell and Invizij Architects have committed to making each of their buildings universally accessible, beyond complying to building code standards. Accessibility can be about navigating within the unit, within the building, or even connecting with needed resources within the community.
Jess Brand talked about the importance of hallways as a space not just for navigating from here to there, but also as a place to connect:
There’s also the way that hallways work. They are wide enough to actually talk a little bit in the corridor, or by the elevator. That space is actually one that our tenants love because there is often a big window at the end of the elevator hallway and there is space so that while you’re waiting for the elevator you’re able to talk in that space. People feel safer and they will talk with one another.
In thinking about the unique needs of their tenants as well as incorporating Universal Design principles, there are other design features that Indwell and team have integrated into the physical design of the buildings. Recognizing that a number of their tenants live with schizophrenia and are particularly sensitive to sound, they have gone beyond minimum standards for sound transmission between apartments. Graham Cubitt:
We do have many tenants who live with schizophrenia. Some of the design considerations that we would make would be around something called STC or ASTC which is a measurement for measuring sound transmission through separations……..There are minimum code standards for sound transmission between apartments. We try to go above that; the feedback that we’ve gotten from tenants with schizophrenia is, “Listen, I have constant voices in my head, its helpful if I can differentiate between those voices and my neighbor talking though the wall.” That is feedback we pay attention to.
Similar considerations have been made when designing for those tenants who may have some type of visual or audio impairment. Graham talked about the different design elements that they have integrated into their units to ensure inclusive design:
All apartments and common areas have an integrated alarm system with a strobe light so that someone with a vision or hearing impairment can recognize it. Some of the contrast walls are related to spatial orientation; if you are completely visually impaired, you won’t be able to see it but if you are moderately visually impaired, the contrast makes a difference. In cheap designs, everything is beige. We don’t do that. We have wood-grained cabinetry and walls that are different colours. Things like that help people to orient in their space who does have visual impairments.
In newer buildings, accessibility standards can be designed in, but Graham talked about some of the challenges of retrofitting older buildings to meet accessibility standards:
All of our new buildings are built to be accessible, and we’ve retrofitted 1960s apartments buildings wherever possible. We’ve done things like taking out stairs from the entry lobbies. Almost all of our buildings are accessible now.
In current buildings, however, the buildings meet both accessibility standards and take into consideration the needs of tenants who may need barrier-free access. Graham talked about Indwell’s newest building and the barrier-free units:
There are eight fully barrier-free units in this building (Parkdale Landing) so lowered countertops, all the fixtures are lowered, switches, etc. so that if you do utilize a wheelchair, you can access your whole apartment. The shower is wider, has grab-bars, and even has a flip-down seat.
Graham Cubitt discussed the importance of being able to navigate from the building to external resources, which was an important consideration in site selection. Public transit is very important for tenants, along with walkability to parks and services (interview transcription). Nrinder Nann placed real value on this kind of accessibility as well. She shared:
There is real importance for people being able to walk to get to the amenities they need. They need to be able to access transit and to be able to access amenities like grocery stores that offer fresh produce at an affordable rate or emergency food supports. It’s important that affordable housing units are designed in a way that allows people the ability to get what they need.
The Importance of Light
Natural light and access to light was mentioned as a key design feature across al interviews. Jess Brand shared: “And what has consistently been part of our community space is sunlight, windows, openness, brightness. Lack of clutter. Access in terms of mobility” (interview transcript). Steven Rolfe spoke about the importance of natural light for creating safe spaces:
The central light well was one of the results of dealing with a difficult building footprint. We built around it and it allowed natural light to come right in. It also gave opportunity to put windows internally, which meant that when people are coming out into their hallway, one, they see natural light, and two, they see that there might be some people downstairs in activities that they could join.
Jeff Neven picked up on that same theme when he talked about the function of the windows in the laundry room:
All of our laundry rooms have windows into spaces as well as exterior windows wherever possible, so that there is light. We want people to do laundry, so if it feels safe and you feel good being in there, people use the facilities more regularly.
Because the units within the Indwell buildings are more modest living spaces, Graham Cubitt explains the importance of natural light and why it is integrated into their designs:
We know from all of our experience and feedback loops – whether living there ourselves or talking with our tenants, natural light is super important if you’re going to design smaller spaces. It is a key consideration for everything that we do – making sure it has great natural light.
And light does not just extend to the inclusion of natural light. Graham Cubitt explained their design approach to lighting within the units, to provide choice, warmth and to create space:
We make sure we specify the colour temperature on lightbulbs. Newer LED bulbs are not like the old incandescent bulbs that are all the same colour. Newer lights, LEDs or fluorescents are available bright white or the soft white, the warm or daylight. They are measured in degrees Kelvin. Some colour temperatures are really hostile to live under. Not everybody notices it- but for people who do, they really do and it has a huge impact on mental health. We always choose 2700 or 3000 Kelvins as the colour temperature of the bulbs, versus 4000+ which is too common. It really impacts the feel and colour of the space and everything else about it.
He went on to describe the impact that choice can have in a smaller unit, and the value that Indwell places on quality of life versus cost when it comes to the inclusion of multiple light fixtures within the unit:
Its cheaper to install one ceiling light rather than four, but we think about what we would like in an apartment. We don’t want to go from no light to really bright – zero light to 100% light. You might want to be able to come into your apartment, or wake up, and be able to turn on some light immediately but not all. Or maybe you want the ceiling fan to run without the light, especially in the summertime, so being able to turn those things on and off separately is really important for quality of life.
Transforming Communal Space
Throughout the interviews, research participants talked about being intentional in designing the communal spaces. This can extend from the hallways to the recreation spaces. Emma Cubitt, the Primary Architect from Invizij spoke to the process of design and why they prioritize the design of the community spaces in buildings:
With all the projects that I work on, the whole building focuses on these community spaces, especially with the Indwell projects where they have some oversight of supports with tenants. They will have support staff on site, so having them located near the entry is important for easy check-ins. Making designs so it’s as easy as possible to make those connections is important.
Steven Rolfe confirmed the importance of designing community spaces for cultivating a sense of community within the Indwell buildings:
One of the important things about designing community spaces is they facilitate relationships which are the basis of everything that we do. You have to have a space where you can meet people, you have to have a space where you can have an interaction that is more than just knocking on somebody’s door. It’s the encounters that you have in the hallways, in the community spaces where you build the relationships and build trust. Many folks have significant issues trusting others, simply because they’ve had lives where everything and everyone has broken trust, so building it up again takes time and space.
When Emma designs for common spaces, she is intentional about internal windows. This isa strategy to reduce and abate anxiety in the surrounding area. She also designs hallways to provide options for movement, so that tenants do not feel trapped in the interior spaces. The purpose of exterior windows is to provide both light, as well as an increased sense of safety:
We always have lots of windows in our common spaces looking from the corridors into the room, for many reasons including safety for people that are inside, A lot of Indwell’s tenants have different anxiety disorders so having a sense that you can see what’s happening beyond your space is important. In the design of the apartment layout or other spaces, my goal is to always have two directions that you can go. If somebody is coming towards you and you feel uncomfortable, you can kind of escape. We try and have circular corridors or routes where possible. I also create views of the outdoors in the corridors where possible, so you don’t just feel like you’re in an enclosed space
Graham mentioned that simple design elements like door placements of the doors can have a significant impact, based on the life histories and experiences of tenants:
I mentioned the many of our tenants have spent time in psychiatric hospital. Hallways can look like an institution and so we pay attention to finishes and colors. If you go through this building, you’ll see that the doors are set back in instead of just a straight long hallway with doors opening into the hallway, like a hospital might. This is intentional and can convey a lot to our tenants unconsciously.
Figure 9: Original Collage by Bethany Osborne and Shannon Pirie
One of the design elements that emerged from the interviews was the importance of creating choice. Henry talked about the importance of dignity and autonomy in his interview when he shared: “…and you have to consider these are people that, like any else, need some dignity and need some space to make their own” (interview transcript). Graham talked about the value of creating the opportunity for choice and how that becomes integrated in multiple ways into the design of units:
I think one of the big things is options. You don’t want to design a space where you can only put your bed in one spot, you can only put your sofa in one place and that’s the only place it’s going to fit. Because people want to have the ability to change things up, and that is something we take into consideration.
This choice translates into the kinds of doors that have been installed in the units as well, as Graham Cubitt explains:
Hinge doors versus sliding doors is another design feature. We use a lot of tracks and sliding doors, like barn-door style, because as a single person at home you rarely close the interior doors. Doors that don’t have to swing make a big difference for space and creates options for our tenants.
The intentionality of design translates into the design and flow of units as well. Graham talked about creating units with circular layouts. He also talked about the importance of choice when choosing finishes. Although tenants do not have the option of choosing the finishes for flooring or millwork, tenants do have the option to paint a unit if they want to. Indwell considers these design elements important:
Sometimes we have circular layouts within a suite, using doorways, not passageways, closets that are accessible from two sides, things like that. As well as finishes. You can make an apartment look really cheap by using basic builder’s grade finishes and painting it all beige, or you can make it look exceptional by using slightly better but very cost-effective finishes. Things like the colours of millwork or a painted backsplash don’t cost very much more, but make you feel like you’re living in a high quality apartment compared to a cheap apartment.
Emma talked about a number of the design features that were integrated into the Parkdale Landing site to create space and provide choice for users:
It depends on the scale of the apartments, but natural light is always really important, along with having higher ceilings so that the units feel bigger than the actual physical floor space. We try to make a large room that will be living space and kitchen so that you can be working in one space and see what’s going on in the other space.
She went on to describe the way that tenants could consider the multi-use space, and the impact of the design. For her, the Passive Housing elements contribute significantly to the design possibilities (The Passive House elements will be discussed at length in the section on Passive House- Environmental Sustainability):
Another benefit of the Passive House design is that you’re not losing a quarter of your space because it’s too drafty or uncomfortable to sit near the exterior wall. It’s all useable and comfortable. We also have ceiling fans to move air around even more. I’ve been using a design element in one-bedroom apartments for the last two projects, having a wall that goes up about eight feet between the living room and bedroom but not all the way to the ceiling and then we have a door close to the windows so if you have the door open you could maybe have your bedroom be multi-function as the office and the bedroom. You can see the office part through that door but not the bedroom part, and it makes it feel like, you know, almost twice as big. The bedroom window becomes visible from the living room, so it’s kind of like borrowed space.
Because Indwell has been providing housing for decades, they have had the opportunity to do a lot of learning over that time. It has been important to hear from tenants about what is working and what is not working about both physical and service design. For some members of the design team, learning about what works and what does not means spending some time living in the building once it is open. Steven Rolfe shared that “[his] own perception of what people needed to live and to be successful before [he] started this work was very different then, than it is now.”
Emma saw real value in living in the different buildings that she had designed, and felt that this was an important part of her design practice:
I have had the wonderful opportunity to live in some of Indwell’s apartment buildings. The first one was when I first moved to Hamilton, and Graham and I were the superintendents in an existing 1960’s Indwell apartment building. It was my first time experiencing a typical apartment where there weren’t any windows in the corridor and it just felt oppressive in that space. I remember just living there and thinking, how would I do this differently? Even if there are staircases at both ends (which is very common), I knew I would create exit doors with big windows going into those staircases.
Graham and I live in each of the Indwell buildings that I design in the first few weeks after they open to experience the design. We learn things from that experience every time, which helps us to consistently improve our design process on each new project.
Steven Rolfe discussed the value of integrating a feedback loop into improving both space and service delivery:
We just keep learning more about our tenants the more they were interacting in the spaces. We have learned that people who are living in studio apartments, really enjoy going out and enjoy a meal together. Creating every opportunity for people to do that is imperative; people like to cook food, people like to talk about food, people like to eat food together. As a result, a lot of energy goes into the design of where people are eating.
Being responsive in design can mean that you need to problem solve for issues that your tenants face, which can cause conflicts with the external community. This has been the case with smoke shelters and Indwell tenants. Graham Cubitt discussed this issue and the solution in his interview:
We do have non-smoking rules in our buildings, so where do people go outside to smoke? It isn’t our first choice to build smoking shelters but we recognize that it is something that is essential to meet the need of approximately 30% of our tenants. People don’t want to stand in the rain and to avoid getting wet, they’ll just stand in the doorway and smoke so they stay dry, which creates lots of other problems. We rethought the problem around a potential spot for people to socialize and design attractive shelters. We also thought about how people being outside smoking impacts our neighbourhood. Nobody likes seeing a building where everybody’s just standing outside smoking, coughing, or talking loudly all night.
Henry Schilthuis, the Construction Manager also discussed the rationale for some of the design decisions related to spaces for smokers. He spoke to the design decision at Parkdale Landing to provide a smoking area in a patio area on the second floor of the building:
Every neighbourhood is different. The problem here in this area is there are folks that take advantage of people in social housing, especially people with addictions. The worst thing that you can do is send somebody out to the sidewalk to smoke in the middle of the night, or to the backyard…… By building a space that’s separated by access and elevated to the second floor from the sidewalk, it helps keep the tenants protected while they can go out for a smoke. They’re not as exposed to the danger that’s out there and they are also not isolated from their community.
Emma spoke to the same design feature, and talked about it as a responsive feature, but also how one design element can fulfill many different purposes:
It depends on the site and different considerations, but space for tenants to smoke outdoors is always an important part of our conversations, for better or worse. It’s a reality for a lot of tenants and we figure out a place that is safe and can still build community for people who are smokers. When projects are in neighbourhoods that either don’t have the site space available for it or maybe there’s drug dealing that happens in the neighbourhood, so you want to try and help tenants stay safe. We have been doing more raised patios, first at Parkdale Landing where there is a big patio which will have community garden plots and a pergola for people to sit under in the sun or the rain. In the second phase McQuesten Lofts build, each floor has its own patio which can probably fit up to ten people or so, but I’m sure fewer people will be there at any one time. These balconies are on the sunny side of the building and there’s going to be some higher up ones designated for smoking, while the rest are not. It’s an important part of the considerations that people can have outdoor space for their mental health.
In buildings where a patio like the one at Parkdale Landing is not possible, Indwell has integrated a smoking shelter into the landscape design of their buildings. Graham described this responsive design solution:
They are nice, sturdy, well-built shelters where people can sit. They’re semi-transparent in the sense that the wood slats are designed so you can see through them but you can’t necessarily see people just sitting there smoking. We try to position those in such a way that they are respectful to the neighbourhood, but allow people to feel dignified, that they are not just stuck behind a garbage dumpster.
One of the other responsive design elements Indwell has integrated into their buildings is the inclusion of beautiful independent washrooms in each apartment. This may seem obvious as a required feature, but many tenants report how thankful they are to have their own private, secure, and functional washroom, having past experience of unstable housing situations, where shared or public washrooms may have included a level of insecurity and/or vulnerability. Graham shared perspective for washroom designs in units:
Good washrooms: they’re really important. For those of us who have not experienced very complex life circumstances, we don’t realize what it’s like to live with the insecurity of being violated in a washroom space. We’ve heard from many tenants over the years about their experiences of being victimized sexually, or having their personal belongings tampered with, in shared washroom spaces. We realized that a shared washroom was a big problem for a lot of people, and so all of our new builds have private washrooms within each apartments. This makes it possible for each tenant to have their own household space.
In addition to living in each of the Indwell buildings that she designs, Emma also ensures that she creates opportunities to get feedback from tenants once they have lived in the units. This is to guarantee that there is a consistent feedback loop, with an interest to be improving on design for tenants:
I like meeting with people after they have been living in the project for a few months to hear how it’s going and if there is anything they love or that they wish was different. There have been especially interesting, useful focus groups with people who are living in the barrier-free units to hear how they experience their unit and if there’s anything that’s difficult to reach or that they’d wish was different. Especially when it’s a person with mobility issues, I really like to hear that first-hand feedback.
Passive House- Environmental Sustainability
Passive House design is significant to the Indwell housing design process. For Indwell, the move towards using a Passive House design emerged from the desire to be responsible both environmentally and fiscally. Graham talked about this as being the question that they posed to themselves as an organization: What does it mean to merge high performance with deep affordability? Passive House was a design strategy to bring these two worlds together (interview transcript). For Emma, the move towards Passive House made a lot of sense because of the financial and economic sustainability: “I think having sustainability at the core of housing just makes sense because housing is a basic human need and having it be sustainable just makes sense for the direction that were going” (interview transcript). For Emma, from the perspective of responding to building codes and environmental sustainability, Passive House was also an important responsive direction. She feels that doing the minimum in terms of responding to environmental codes is not sufficient, to respond to future needs in terms of climate targets:
Most developers today are supposedly building to code, but the code has a lot of gaps in terms of sustainability and they just try to do the bare minimum. But the minimum is not good enough for what we need to be building in order to meet any sort of targets to combat climate change.
As Nrinder Nann reflected on the importance of Passive House builds, she also pointed to the value of the model from an environmental perspective, an affordability perspective, and for the tenants within the buildings:
Building passive buildings and homes is essential for our ability to stay on this planet. From an environmental perspective, but also from an affordability perspective, passive design ends up being much more affordable to live in. It allows residents to stretch their dollars where they need to be and not worry about paying their utility bill versus their rent versus their food, and I think Passive House design facilitates that by saying, you know, there’s a lower cost to the price of living in this facility, which enables residents to participate more fully in life.
As Indwell began to look at evolving environmental standards as well as sustainability costs, and consulted with their design team, including Invizij and Schilthuis Construction, they realized that Passive Housing is a good design strategy:
The Parkdale Landing building itself was an adaptive reuse of an existing building; it used to be an old tavern and rooming house. The work in this building was very thorough, we stripped everything out of the existing building – all of the electrical, plumbing, mechanical, interior walls – everything went. Because we started with the bare structure in mind, we thought about how we would create a highly energy-efficient building that’s good for the long term. That’s when we started thinking that Passive House was a good design strategy. It was our first Passive House project.
At that point, there were very few multi-dwelling Passive House projects in Canada, and so there was a lot of research, as well as learning, that accompanied their first build at Parkdale Landing. Indwell, Invizij Architects and Schilthuis Construction have since built five Passive House developments since their first multi-unit development, Parkdale Landing, which opened in September 2018.
Henry talked about the learning process in his interview:
Paying attention to the details is very important. Because we were learning on this one – you can’t learn everything in a course and a couple seminars, we engaged a residential contractor from Oakville who had done some Passive House detailing and work(ed) with them. They oversaw us a little at the beginning and helped us with some initial details such as air barriers, window install and taping, and just gave us some pointers on how to achieve the performance testing. It was important to engage the people that were already very knowledgeable about [Passive Housing].
For Emma, like Henry, it was important to involve a community of practitioners who could work and learn with her team:
We had a new consultant on our team who helped guide some of the very collaborative meetings where we had the contractor and all the consultants where we worked through all the Passive House details. We threw out ideas, and went back and forth about what was going to be best. We were meeting every two weeks to figure out Passive House and how to do this building in a way to make it work.
There were a number of Passive House elements that contributed to the design and overall comfort of tenants. Emma spoke to a number of those elements in her interview:
The way that the Passive House elements work in these apartments, there’s always fresh air coming into the apartment at a temperature very similar to the ambient temperature in the building, so you don’t have that kind of hot and cold differential. It’s the same with the windows because they are so good thermally with the triple glazing, thermal breaks, and air tightness, that they stay close to the room’s temperature even in mid-winter. And with the insulation in the walls you can sit right next to a window and never feel a draft. That’s a real benefit.
Graham pointed out another feature of the Parkdale Landing Passive House design: the sunshades that hang horizontally on the outside of the building at the top of each window. Their purpose is to contribute to a cooling effect:
Under certain sun conditions when the sun is high, the shades will actually block the sun’s rays from hitting the window, reducing solar heat gain through the glazing. You can still see out of course, but it stops the solar rays from entering which helps keep the apartments from overheating in the summer.
Graham talked about the importance of the ventilation system for producing quality air flow within the units:
All the heating and cooling in this building is through the ventilation system. There is constant ventilation into every unit as part of Passive House. Really high air quality is important for wellness; we are constantly pushing fresh air into the apartment through the living area, then extracting it through the washroom vent back outdoors. The air streams don’t mix, but the energy is recovered through the ERV.
Because Parkdale Landing was one of the first multi-residential Passive House developments in Canada, there were a number of challenges associated with the build. Part of the learning curve was discovering not just how to do the build well, but where to source the different materials that were needed to build to Passive House standards. Emma described some of the challenges:
Working out the Passive House details for larger, taller building was a real learning curve. Initially the details we found were more related to standard residential combustible construction or more just standard residential, multi residential construction techniques. There were few details for non-combustible PH multi-residential. We were developing our own and talking with many different experts in the field. One of our go-to experts was RDH who became our building envelope consultants. They do a lot of their own research, so we were relying on a lot of the research they’ve done in the past. There are a few companies in North America that are selling Passive House products specifically so, we were learning a lot from them about what kinds of tapes and membranes to be using. We have learned from the suppliers and we have learned from other teams, like owners or design teams of other Passive House projects, and from our Passive House consultants who have other experiences as well. With some of it we were actually developing some of these wall types for the first time in the Canadian context.
Despite facing these challenges, Parkdale Landing officially opened in the Fall of 2018, and 57 tenants now call Parkdale Landing home. Graham believes that Indwell is now the largest Passive House multi-residential developer in Canada:
We’ve become, I think at the moment anyway, Canada’s largest Passive House multi-residential developer. We’ve got five projects built, with roughly a dozen more in design development using Passive House.