There are numerous approaches to making greener buildings- from the inside out, from the ground up, density through urban infill, integrating into the landscape, to name a few… but when an existing 133,000 sq. ft. building aims to expand to 500,000 sq. ft., covering a frightening 6 acres- you have to think BIG. That is the vision of the Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Center (VCEC), as it triples in size in time to accommodate the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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The building first served as the Canadian Pavilion for the World’s Fair Expo in 1986 and has functioned as a popular and often overbooked convention center during the past 20 years. The original building optimized the waterfront location with its signature five-flags seafront landmark and an innovative seawater heating and cooling system. The addition literally expands on the waterfront with 40% of the new building structure built over water and 60% on land.

While the Conference Center’s expansive scale has a major impact on its local environment, the project presents large opportunities to optimize building performance and leverage economies of scale. The entire 6-acre addition will be covered in a ‘living roof’ that will support 400,000 plants of indigenous varieties. A rain catchment system will irrigate the vegetation during much of the year, while grey and black water recycling systems will generate much of the centers’ own water supply. Underwater, the concrete foundation has been stepped to encourage fish habitat to return to the area, and an updated seawater heating and cooling system, similar to the original building’s mechanical systems, will pump seawater over a heat exchanger to control indoor temperatures.

Though the project is slated to ‘qualify’ for a LEED Certification of Gold level, it is not indicated whether or not the project has actually registered. Without a third party verification of construction methods and energy management, it is unclear how sustainable the project will actually be. The VCEC expansion is estimated to take at least 4000 truckloads of concrete, 25 kilometers of steel pipe, and 1.5 hectares of glass. It’s impossible to know how much fly ash, if any, might be used in place of cement, for example, in all that concrete if no one is keeping track.

The Center has maintained environmentally responsible operations and management, using locally grown and organic produce, donating surplus food to local charities, and recycling 50% of its waste. One would hope the expansion will be built with the sustainable building practices it implies, and that its intentions won’t be compromized during the construction process. This Inhabitat writer has yet to inhabit a convention center that does NOT have walls clad with vinyl covering.

Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Center