BY TOM KEYSER
Engineering Firm Meets the
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
Destination Africa, a CEAaward-winning project at the
Calgary Zoo, incorporates plenty of Keen ideas.
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.
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
Integrated design is a means of bringing all the players
to the same table from day one: owners' reps, architects,
engineers and operations people.
"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
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.