As anyone who’s been to a community meeting knows, the NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) syndrome is often a frustrating roadblock. So when Vancouver-based firm PUBLIC: Architecture + Communication was approached to build a wastewater treatment center in the middle of a residential neighborhood in British Columbia, the project predictably ran up against some challenges. Fortunately, the architects turned widely held perceptions of the sewage treatment plant on their head with the design of the Sechelt Water Resource Centre, a stunning LEED Gold-certified facility with a built-in educational component that shows the public the fascinating lifecycle of its waste.

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SWRC exterior view

The interior of the treatment center

The multimillion-dollar Sechelt Water Resource Centre replaces the Ebbtide Wastewater Treatment Plant, an aging facility that was noisy and infamous for its odors. The new treatment center not only contains its smells and sounds more effectively, but also discharges 10 times less solid waste into Trail Bay and is more cost-efficient to operate. Moreover, resources — including biosolids, heat and reclaimed water — that were once wasted are now reused for industry, parks and agriculture.

offices of SWRC

“The LEED Gold-certified Sechelt Water Resource Centre (SWRC) rethinks traditional municipal wastewater treatment by creating a transparent space in the residential heart of Sechelt that engages the public in meaningful ways,” PUBLIC: Architecture + Communication said in a statement. “Instead of sequestering this essential service behind a locked chain-link fence, the facility reveals mechanical and biological systems that clean wastewater, encouraging the public to witness their role in the hydrological cycle. The current incarnation of flush toilet infrastructure — by way of magic, a sort of ‘disappearing’ by water — is no longer viable in our times.”

interior of greenhouse

man pruning roses in greenhouse

Related: Bicycle highway in the Netherlands built using recycled toilet paper

The wastewater treatment center tells the story of the water recycling process through the teaching facility, botanical garden and sewage treatment plant. The waste moves from primary treatment to a plant-based filtration system and finally through UV disinfection, after which the water is redirected to industry. The greenhouse, located in a striking glass structure with a roofline inspired by surrounding residential architecture, grows a variety of plants including tomatoes and roses fed by treated water. The office spaces are clad in charred cedar in reference to the carbon used in filtration, while the heavy equipment areas are sheathed in sulfur-yellow cement board.

+ PUBLIC: Architecture + Communication

Images by Martin Tessler