Bioclimatic Buildings – Technology for Life

Life creates conditions conducive to life.  It’s that simple.

In a world where resources are finite, and as there can be no development without architecture, this means that architecture must identify renewable resources and develop suitable methods to be environmentally sustainable. Environmentally sustainable architecture focuses on the user and the spirit of place to ensure that the people receive the best, most sustainable creation for each individual location.

One way to create comfort in the past was to design artificially air-conditioned buildings, which is still the unfortunate standard practice in international architecture.

The buildings thus become sophisticated mechanisms that act automatically, but this are extremely costly for developing countries and require huge amounts of energy. The interior microclimate is controlled mechanically, without direct participation by the users and often achieve the opposite of the intent: too cold, too hot and ultimately unhealthy as pathogens get recycled form vent to vent.

Recently living building technologies are making headway into the architectural vernacular, not only for positive PR repercussions but because the Return on Investment (ROI) is palatable.

Manitoba Hydro is the major energy utility in the Province of Manitoba, the fourth largest energy utility in Canada and offers some of the lowest electricity rates in the world. Owned by the provincial government, nearly all of its electricity comes from self-renewing water power. Its new headquarters tower, Manitoba Hydro Place, is the first of the next generation of sustainable buildings integrating time-tested environmental concepts in conjunction with advanced technologies to achieve a “living building” that dynamically responds to the local climate.


Located in downtown Winnipeg, the city is known for its extreme climate, with temperatures that fluctuate from -35ºC (-31 ºF) to +34ºC (95 ºF) over the year. The 64,500 m² (695,000 ft²) tower is targeting less than 100 kWh/m²/a compared to 400 kWh/m²/a for a typical large scale North American office tower located in a more temperate climate. The architectural solution clearly relies on passive free energy without compromise to design quality and, most importantly, human comfort.

A 115 metre (377 foot) tall solar chimney marks the north elevation and main entrance on Portage Avenue, and establishes an iconic presence for Manitoba Hydro on the skyline. The solar chimney is a key element in the passive ventilation system which relies on the natural stack effect. The chimney draws used air out of the building during the shoulder seasons and summer months. In winter, exhaust air is drawn to the bottom of the solar chimney by fans, and heat recovered from this exhaust air is used to warm the parkade and to preheat the incoming cold air in the south atria.

In contrast to conventional North American office buildings which use recirculated air, Manitoba Hydro Place is filled with 100% fresh air, 24 hours a day, year round, regardless of outside temperatures. Within the splay of the two towers, a series of three, six-storey south atria, or winter gardens, form the lungs of the building, drawing in outside air and pre-conditioning it before it enters the workspaces through adjustable vents in the raised floor. Depending on the season, a 24 metre tall waterfall feature in each of the atria humidifies or dehumidifies the incoming air.

During colder temperatures, recovered heat from exhaust air, and passive solar radiant energy are used to warm the fresh air. The conditioned air is drawn through the raised floors into the office spaces through under floor fan units. Building occupants, computers and other sources of heat cause the air to rise, which is then drawn north and exhausted by the solar chimney. In the shoulder seasons, the building relies solely on outdoor fresh air through the use of automatic and manually operated windows.

Ultimately, Manitoba Hydro Place sets a precedent for the seamless integration of architectural excellence and climate responsive, energy efficient and sustainable design while enhancing and improving the quality and comfort of the human experience and the civility of urban life.

Credits: abc creativity – KPBM Architects – Green Source 2010

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