Developer Sustainably Repurposes Office Buildings into Homes
Strategic Group Projects: First Certified through BUILT GREEN® High Density Reno Pilot
The BUILT GREEN® High Density Renovation program in pilot has seen its first two successful certifications, with Strategic Group’s Cube in Calgary and E11even in Edmonton! This pilot follows Built Green Canada’s holistic sustainable building program for new High Density projects, while offering options for builders like Strategic Group, who retrofit existing buildings.
Riaz Mamdani, chief executive and founder of Strategic Group, says, “We do office-to-residential repurposing because it is good for our economy, good for our community, good for our environment, and good for our business.” They’re proud of their work recycling buildings, while reducing office vacancy and creating vibrancy in city centres.
To begin with, repurposing has its challenges and requires creative solutions; Strategic decided to do it sustainably—and verify with certification.
While they’re strong believers in environmental stewardship, Strategic Group also recognizes the financial benefits. Mamdani continues, “As we move forward with our business plan and strategy, we know it makes good economic sense to include environmentally sustainable practices in our work. Our tenants and residents, stakeholders and neighbours expect a collaborative approach to environmental action, and together we are making smart and creative choices that limit our collective environmental impact.”
Repurposing a high density building is not without its challenges and expenses; yet, with thoughtful strategy and planning, there are significant long-term rewards for both business and environment.
For a building to qualify for Built Green’s High Density Reno Program, substantial upgrades must be made to the energy systems, including the envelope and mechanical and electrical systems—plus, green features must go beyond energy, to other aspects of sustainability.
Within the former office buildings, Strategic used as much existing equipment and systems as possible. Although there were instances where equipment did not perform to standards, so had to be replaced. The process required effort and diligence, but Mamdani and his team believes if they can reuse more of an existing building, it’s worth it.
Through the guidance of the BUILT GREEN® certification program, he says they dramatically improved the efficiency of energy and water systems, used high quality construction materials, upgraded indoor air quality and ventilation, and created a thorough waste diversion program.
To start with, the most sustainable building is the one you never demolish. Mamdani says, “By repurposing aging office spaces into multi-family homes, we have saved tens of thousands of tons of material from going to waste. This is in addition to full suite of sustainability focused renovations that lead to our high density renovation projects being BUILT GREEN® certified.”
E11even, previously a 15-storey office tower known as Harley Court, brings 177 rental suites to downtown Edmonton, steps from Jasper Avenue at 10045-111 Street. Amidst newer developments, Harley Court was standing vacant, and as Strategic Group put it, 'functionally obsolete'. And yet, located in the Oliver neighbourhood, with culture and amenities, nearby universities, and employment opportunities, this is a valuable housing location.
At the official opening, Mayor Don Iveson congratulated Strategic on their innovation and leadership, and for “saving thousands of tons of waste from going to the landfill, while adding critical green housing options for Edmontonians is a great accomplishment.”
A successful repurposing project requires creative thinking, particularly in designing suite layouts within the existing footprint. At E11even, this resulted in unique, greener living spaces. Ranging from bright, open, loft-style studios, to one- and two-bedroom suites, these units were designed to be stylish and sustainable, with features like chef-inspired kitchens, pendant island lighting, and stone countertops.
E11even is Strategic Group’s tallest office-to-residential repurposing project to date. Like most office buildings, it did not have balconies or outdoor amenity spaces. To address this at e11even, they created an indoor and outdoor Sky Lounge on the rooftop to create a year-round amenity that would take advantage of views of Edmonton’s river valley and downtown. With ample seating and a wall of BBQs, it has become a popular common area for residents.
Meanwhile, Cube (formerly known as Stephenson) in Calgary at 1177-11 Avenue was Strategic Group’s first office-to-residential repurpose. It brought 65 new rental options to this highly sought-after area.
Strategic Group felt that, between the prime location, near entertainment and employment districts, public transportation, and grocery, this put the building on their high priority list for re-purposing.
As part of their sustainability efforts, they needed to ensure a high quality envelope for the entire building. This included replacing windows with double-paned glass to reduce the energy required for heating and cooling.
As with E11even, here at Cube they also rearranged mechanical equipment on the rooftop and created an outdoor Sky Lounge for lounging and BBQ. This solution created a social environment that many buildings do not have, and it has been a great success with residents.
At Cube’s official opening, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said, “This project is an exciting next step for innovative development in our city. Transforming a previously under-utilized office building into a place that more than a hundred people will call home will lead to great outcomes. This will improve the outlook and opportunity for businesses nearby, will utilize parks and infrastructure that are already in place, and will add to the vibrancy of the neighbourhood.”
As the cost of entering the housing market continues to make home ownership a challenge, Canadians are looking at more affordably priced homes, while others who may have been considering buying up will remain in the home they’re in. There are also a growing number of Canadians turning to multi-family as an affordable option, whether renting or owning—either way, as a homeowner who remains in their current home or as property owner of an existing multi-family building, there is increased focus on upgrades and saving on operating costs.
Built Green’s renovation programs, both high density and single family, can help guide builders towards more sustainable renovations.
Mamdani says, “Put simply, we know that our residents want to live in a building that is certified sustainable. Built Green certification is a credible third-party that offers a way to share our environmental commitment with residents. At this point, we are one of very few developers doing this work, but we hope that our example is an inspiration for others.”
These are the first projects to go through the program achieved BUILT GREEN® Silver certification! Meanwhile, Strategic Group has two more similar HD Reno projects enrolled for certification.
Congratulations to Strategic Group and their BUILT GREEN® High Density Verifier, Matt Grace from Integral Group on these beautiful, sustainably renovated office-to-residential repurposing projects!