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Guelph-Humber Building’s Respiratory System
Editorial by: Morteza Hazbei

The university was founded in 2002 in partnership with the University of Guelph and Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. This four-story building opened to the public in May 2004. It was designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects in a joint venture with RHL Architects. The project has a size of 50,000 sq. ft. and incorporates a range of facilities such as classrooms, computer labs, studios, offices, and informal gathering spaces.

It can be observed that a displacement ventilation system and a biofilter wall are two of the main sustainable approaches that have been applied to enhance the building’s performance. The displacement ventilation causes natural convection that mitigates energy consumption of fans and quickly exhausts stale air. This is done with the help of the atrium’s design, which acts as a four-story chimney.  In addition, the biofilter wall naturally cleans, cools, and humidifies the indoor environment [1]. The living wall is intended to cool indoor air during the summer and work as a humidifier in winter by using the plants’ natural respiratory properties.

The architects describe biofilter wall:

“This living wall biofilter measures 10m wide and 16m high for a total area of approximately 160m². This is our first living wall and still one of our largest. Fully integrated into the building air handling system, and capable of delivering 40,000 CPM, this living wall biofilter is supplied by natural light, and supplemented with architectural lighting. This living wall contributed towards the building receiving a 2005 award of excellence from the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada.” [2]

In addition to becoming a visual focal point of the building’s atrium, the attractive green space delivers many health benefits throughout the building. This complements the functions of the bio-filter wall and chimney-like atrium design that results in a 35 percent improvement to indoor air quality and a 15 percent decrease in electrical energy consumption [1].

Principal architects Birgit Diamond and Donald Schmitt describe that they are looking for ways to feature the biofiltration research undertaken by the University of Guelph in the design of their Humber academic building.

The didactic aspect of the building is not limited to the greenery of the biofilter wall or its effects on architectural design. The significant lesson of the green biofilter wall is that it is monitored by a sophisticated building management system (BMS) that supports ongoing research into air quality monitoring, heating, cooling, humidification, and energy consumption [1].

From a research viewpoint, the jury of 2005 RAIC Awards of Excellence acknowledged the significance of the scale of the green wall’s design that contributes to a high level of indoor air quality. They also mentioned the building advancing our knowledge of these systems towards developing better designs by trying to address the challenges of sustainability.

All in all, the biofilter wall and the ventilation system are the two main sustainable “organs” for the building. They not only serve as technical tools to enhance the building’s performance but also perform as eco-didactic elements that teach sustainability to the researchers, students, and staff. This mission is done on two levels. On the one hand, it targets researchers who monitor these respiratory systems of the building. On the other hand, it focuses on educating the whole community of the university- students, professors, and staff- by visually conveying the green message through the bio filleter wall. In this regard, the university also dedicates a page on its website to describe the biofilter wall [3]. This confirms that both the architects as well as the building’s patronstry to emphasize the didactic aspects of these sustainable organs.

[1]    “2005 RAIC Awards of Excellence Innovation in Architecture,” Can. Archit., pp. 35–38, 2005.
[2]    D. Schmitt, “University of Guelph-Humber.” http://nedlawlivingwalls.com/cubeportfolio/university-of-guelph-humber/ (accessed Jun. 11, 2020).
[3]    “The Plant Wall.” https://www.guelphhumber.ca/about/plant-wall (accessed Jun. 11, 2020).

Project Title: University of Guelph-Humber
Birgit Siber, Diamond and Schmitt Architects + RHL Architects
Place: Toronto, ON

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