The expansion project of the Vancouver Convention Centre was designed to be a showcase sustainable building and has been designed constructed to meet the LEED Gold Standard in sustainable building design. It features a sweeping green roof that is the 2nd largest in North America.

by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post

The expansive 6.5 acre (2.4 hectare) green roof of this magnificent structure gracefully flowing and melding into the backdrop of the grey blue water of the Vancouver harbor and the North Shore Mountains behind is breathtaking. It is a truly beautiful building, in my opinion and I am pretty sure in the opinion of most people who will get to see it. The convention center has undergone an extensive expansion tripling in size and will function as the main press center for the coverage of the 2010 XXI Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games. The expansion project was designed to be a showcase sustainable building and has been designed constructed to meet the LEED Gold Standard in sustainable building design.

Seattle-based LMN Architects designed the Vancouver Convention Centre West, in collaboration with Vancouver-based Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership and DA Architects & Planners as a compelling vision of what a civic building can be and as a model of sustainability. It is one of the greenest convention centers in the world.

In order to get recognized as an iconic model of sustainability the architects incorporated a number of cutting-edge environmental features

The Largest Non-Industrial Green Roof in North America

The center’s green roof was designed to imitate a gulf island beachfront and to provide a nesting ground for local birds. The roof has been landscaped with more than 400,000 indigenous plants and grasses from the Gulf Islands (from 20 different species) that provide natural habitat to birds, insects and small mammals. Locally established populations of honeybees pollinate the flowering plant species of the building’s living roof. This unique ecosystem is planted on a sloping roof ranging from 3% to 56% incline.

The green roof is designed to act as an insulator, reducing heat gains in summer and heat losses in winter and is projected to reduce summer heat gains by up to 95 percent and winter heat losses by up to 26 percent. To achieve this goal the roof was constructed with many engineered layers. First a fiberglass mat faced panel with a gypsum core overlays a metal roof base. Over this a capillary waterproofing material with a root inhibitor was added followed by 4” of extruded insulation covered with a filter cloth. Finally, over this multilayered substrate 12” of engineered soil (or growth medium) was spread.

Because of the sometimes extreme slopes, some areas needed additional web-style retention systems, built using high-strength polymer matting and stainless steel cables, to hold the growing media, plants and 43 kilometers of drip irrigation piping in place.

As is typically the case with green roofs the convention center’s green roof also helps with stormwater management, and the living exterior skin helps mitigate the heat-island effect that often is an un desired side effect of traditional roofing designs.

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The Building’s Artificial Reef

An underwater habitat skirt or artificial reef that has been designed into and incorporated as a part of the centre’s foundation is providing new habitat for barnacles, mussels, seaweed, starfish, crabs and various fish species. The architects collaborated with marine biologists to develop the restoration plans for 200 feet of shoreline and 1,500 feet of marine habitat. The five-tiered underwater structure looks like a set of bleachers, consisting of 76 concrete frames weighing more than 36,000 kilograms each. The structure creates tidal zones underneath the building that flush daily with the rise and fall of the tide.

On Site Water Treatment and Water Conservation

The Convention Center’s innovative water conservation and reuse strategy is projected to reduce potable water use 60 to 70 percent over typical convention centers. The water conservation and re-cycling strategy includes onsite black water treatment to process the building’s sewage so that it can be re-used for other purposes, providing 80 percent of the gray water needs for toilet flushing in the building and supplemental water for irrigation of the living roof. A desalinization plant that drawing water from the harbor and processing it to meet additional non-potable water demands has also been included

Building Features to Improve Energy Efficiency

The convention center employs a heat pump system that takes advantage of the constant temperature of adjacent seawater to reduce heating and cooling energy use that is a variant of the geothermal heat pump systems that instead rely on the stable thermal mass of the earth a six or more feet underground. This dual loop heat pump system uses radiant floor cooling/heating, which provides a comfortable non drafting and even heating of interior spaces.

To read more about geothermal heat pumps (GHP) and how they work see our article: Geothermal Heat Pumps: Good for the Bottom Line, Good for the Nation and Good for the Earth, which shows how they are among the most efficient and comfortable heating and cooling technologies around and how GHPs can save substantial amounts of energy and significantly reduce peak demand in buildings that incorporate them.

The convention center uses energy efficient lighting fixtures and an extensive utilization of available daylighting to minimize its lighting energy requirements.

Energy is also conserved by utilizing natural ventilation and an advanced energy management system.


The Vancouver Convention Center has been designated a Powersmart Convention Centre by BC Hydro and has been awarded the “GO GREEN” certificate from the Building Owners and Managers. The West Building expansion has been built to Gold Certification standards. It is and will continue to be a powerful symbol of what is possible for large public buildings and hopefully will inspire others to adopt the ethic of sustainable design when building or renovating a structure. But perhaps even more than all of this – impressive as it certainly is – this building manages to establish itself as a living green icon of new urban design it has a poetry and fluidity that mirrors its natural environs and knits the urban core, with which it abuts to the wild scenery and majesty of the Pacific Northwest in which Vancouver itself is nestled.

Not all was poetry – there were significant cost overruns for example. However in the long run all of that will be forgotten and the city of Vancouver will be graced by a inspired public space that extends the city’s waterfront park and pedestrian system and gives the city a symbol that most certainly will be recognized around the world – after the glare of global public attention that will descend on Vancouver with the coming winter Olympic games ensure that it becomes a global icon of green design.

© 2009 – 2010, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.