Terri-Jane Yuzda



Freelance Columnist

Keen and Green

Engineering Firm Meets the
Challenges Of a More Energy-Efficient Future

It's not easy being green, Kermit the Frog has observed. You have to work at it. But difficult challenges never stopped Alberta engineers, where progressive firms are at the forefront of the sustainable building trend.

Among them is Keen Engineering Co. Ltd., which runs busy offices in cities across Canada (including Edmonton and Calgary), plus two more in the U.S.

"I think it's quite helpful for an organization like ours to share common goals, a common culture, a common language," explains Jim Sawers, P.Eng., principal of Keen's Calgary office.

It's a shared culture with its own in-house brand: Keen Green. For Keen Engineering, that translates into a policy for designing the most environmentally friendly, energy- and cost-efficient buildings possible.

Destination Reached
Destination Africa, a CEAaward-winning project at the Calgary Zoo, incorporates plenty of Keen ideas.

Simulating Africa

The company's efforts have not gone unnoticed. Early this year, the Consulting Engineers of Alberta saluted Mr. Sawers’ Calgary team with a Showcase Award of Excellence for ground-breaking work on the Destination Africa Pavilion at the Calgary Zoo.

Contracted to BKDI Architects, the Keen team set up an elaborate sequence of efficient and environmentally sensitive systems within the large complex, simulating tropical rain forests and the African savannah.

Keen’s innovative solutions included the use of water from nearby ground wells for interior waterfalls and streams, and to maintain mist and humidity levels within the realistic TransAlta Rainforest. By relying on the same water source to condition the air, Keen engineers were able to eliminate the need to install an energy-gobbling mechanical chiller.

Mr. Sawers’ specialists also designed a unique system for surface collection of rain water, recycling it for irrigation purposes, and made creative use of daylighting, natural ventilation and passive solar heating.

For an encore, the group also came up with a lean, green, sewage-treatment machine to continually reprocess the water of the world's largest hippo pool.

Certifiably Green
More recently, the Keen players in Edmonton have earned applause, too. The company set a precedent when the U.S.-based Green Building Council presented the new headquarters of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association with Alberta's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.

Completed late last year, the AUMA building on Saskatchewan Drive features Keen-crafted electrical and mechanical design features, which will help the association save more than $7,000 a year in energy and operating costs.

This kind of recognition is the natural progression of the attitudes held by Keen Engineering President Kevin Hydes, P.Eng., now based in Montreal. He was first bitten by the green bug in the 1990s while working on systems for the C.K. Choi Building on the University of B.C. campus.

Built from 50 per cent recycled materials, this atrium-filled structure was a pioneering effort. It raised the bar, in fact, for sustainable construction standards in Western Canada, and was widely admired for its energy-saving natural lighting and natural ventilation features.

Architects raised eyebrows when they unveiled sewerless toilets, which rely on the composting zeal of red wigglers to turn waste into atrium plant food. And since those days, the whole process of building design has undergone a transformation that invites that kind of engineering innovation.

" In the past, the architect would design a building, then ask us to incorporate our engineering systems," explains Mr. Sawers. "Today we work more closely in an integrated design process."

Integrated design is a means of bringing all the players to the same table from day one: owners' reps, architects, engineers and operations people.

Influential Engineers

"From an engineering viewpoint, it's very good. We're involved much earlier in the game so we can have a significant influence on how a building develops," Mr. Sawers adds. "The engineering profession is really expanding its sphere of influence."

Here’s another case in point. Mr. Sawers and his Calgary contingent brought Keen Green techniques to the Canmore Civic Centre, which opened last spring.

This beautiful building features underfloor air systems, waterless urinals and a water-cooled air conditioning system – which is 100 per cent free of refrigerant-generated chlorofluorocarbons.

Meanwhile, Keen's design model for a new civic office building to house water utility employees, called the Calgary Water Centre, incorporates similar features to dramatically reduce the city's energy, water and electrical costs.

It's not easy being green. But – as Keen’s recognition and accomplishments suggest – it’s certainly worth the effort.

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