Vacant and in disrepair, the Ken Soble Tower in the city of Hamilton in Ontario, Canada was a candidate for a sale or demolition. But, ERA Architects, known for retrofit architectural designs and integration of low-carbon systems, redesigned the building instead.

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A landscape view of a white, L-shaped tower in the middle of a green city area.

Now the 18-story apartment building is the largest EnerPHit Passive House building in North America. Throughout the transition, ERA focused on creating a healthy living environment for the senior residents who want to age in place while simultaneously ensuring the health of the planet.

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The top of the white tower against a deep blue sky.

The 1967 building wore a white brick exterior, a look the ERA team kept in place by cladding with new stucco panels. Top to bottom, the building received a high-performance envelope. Triple-glazed windows allow in natural light and ventilation. Ultra-efficient interior and exterior insulation helps contribute to the overall airtight design. By also replacing the HVAC system, the building achieved a remarkable 94% reduction in carbon emissions and an 89% reduction in thermal energy demand intensity (TEDI). 

The tower's white facade with many windows.

The inside of each apartment received an update with a new kitchen, bathroom, flooring and lighting, with attention to energy efficiency along the way. 

An interior shot of a floor-to-ceiling window with a thick black frame, looking out onto a cityscape.

Graeme Stewart, Principal, ERA Architects says, “Ken Soble Tower is a true beacon on an international stage, showcasing how low carbon and low energy retrofits are not only sustainable, but also realize the best outcomes for residents’ health, safety and comfort within their homes.”

An interior shot of an open floor-to-ceiling window with a thick black frame, looking out onto water.

While the Ken Soble Tower isn’t the first project of its type, the result stands as an example for many similar buildings. Inasmuch, it will be the basis for a two-year study to measure the effectiveness of the building, residents and surrounding environment, in regards to health, safety, economy and more. The results will be available as a teaching tool to offer real-world lessons in retrofit design.

An overhead view of a landscaped area at the base of the tower.

“Many aging, postwar apartment towers provide critical affordable housing for millions of Canadians, but increasingly face complex challenges that require repair. Our hope is that the Ken Soble Tower marks the beginning of a wave of deep retrofits across the country. As we look towards a post-pandemic recovery amid a climate-challenged world, there’s an urgency to apply this type of holistic thinking on a broader scale,” Stewart continued.

+ ERA Architects

Images via Codrin Talaba and Doublespace Photography