February 1, 2012


Award Magazine

With the recent opening of the new Epcor Tower on the northern fringe of Edmonton’s downtown business district, the city acquired its first new office tower in 20 years. Located at one of the downtown’s main gateway entries, the 30-storey building, with 28 occupied floors, is one of the tallest and one of the most distinctive structures in the provincial capital. Owned by Station Lands Limited and developed by Qualico, the tower is the first in a series of four highrises to be built on a 9.2-acre site on a land area that stretches four blocks from east to west, which Canadian National once operated as a railroad. The overall development of the site, now known as Station Lands, will eventually provide more than 2,500,000 square feet of office, retail and residential living space.

The parcel of land was acquired for development in the late 1990s, and it is clear that owner and developer take the long view on the project. With innovative energy-saving and sustainable design features and a distinctive look, the new tower is on track for LEED Gold certification.

Its distinctive crown, inspired by the Chrysler Building in New York, and lit at night by energy-efficient LED lighting, along with extensive use of aluminum and blue-grey glass on the exterior facade and other distinctive architectural features, are likely set to make the even the first tower of the Station Lands development a landmark destination in the city’s downtown. “We are not a merchant developer. The project is being developed for our portfolio along the lines of Rockefeller Center in New York. It’s a private sector space, but of a kind to engender a public and city pride, with large mixed use areas and phases developed over time. Economics and climate are challenges, so we must adjust the scale and pace of development accordingly, but we feel the overall concepts are valid,” says Ken Cantor, the manager for Qualico’s commercial division.

Of the 28 occupied floors, 20 to 24 of them, says Cantor, are full tenant floors. One of the unique features of this office tower stems from the fact that, on the north and south sides of each floor, large, 250-square-foot balconies provide amenity space for occupants. In addition, says Cantor, “The LED lighting on the outside adds sparkle at night.”

Unlike many other buildings in Edmonton’s downtown, the Epcor Tower is set well back from the roadway – about 20 metres – and offers space for planters and two fountains, and like some other aspects of the building, is aimed at being the kind of space where there is a sense of ownership from the public at large, says Cantor.

There are four levels of underground parking, with spaces for 2,800 vehicles overan area about three times the new tower’s floor plate. Also included is a bike room complete with showers and locker facilities. Above that are two floors for retail, part of a continuous five-storey podium space that will extend to the other three towers to be built. The project includes high-capacity floor loading and over-sized high-speed passenger and freight elevators. Also, each tower will have large underground loading docks equipped for semi-trailer trucks.

The main floor area has storefront, not tinted glass, and reiterating a theme of interaction of public and private space, people outside near the fountains and planters will be able to see a sculpture in the main lobby  area of a bear with a salmon by Haida artist Dean Drever. “It’s the largest stainless steel sculpture on the  continent. Anyone can walk up to it and touch it. The whole area is a pretty wonderful space.The look and feel of it has been an important focus,” says Cantor.

The new tower was selected for profiling at the World Sustainability Conference in Helsinki, Finland in October, he notes.

Indeed, the project includes a range of sustainability features. The building has double plumbing to accommodate two water systems – one that uses collected rainwater and stormwater for toilets, and the other, which uses potable water for drinking. “This cuts water consumption from the city water supply by 40 per cent. The storage capacity has to be substantial because it doesn’t rain much in winter,” says Cantor. The envelope has triple glazing for windows and spandrels, eliminating the need for perimeter heating. The fan-coil system includes an average of 78  units per floor. Cantor notes that the absence of perimeter heating frees up an extra 550 square feet per floor on a rectangular floor plate of 25,000 square feet.

The rectangular floor plate allows for a shorter distance – 35 to 40 feet – between building core and the envelope, which in turn, enables lots of natural light to reach the core area. “The design and orientation of the building is to maximize light all year. The building has a strong south-facing exposure,” says Christiaan Odinga, an associate at Kasian Architecture Interior Design & Planning Ltd. and lead designer for the Epcor Tower.

The tower is one of a handful in Canada that uses earth tubes for pre-warming and pre-cooling ventilation, so that air is always drawn in to the main fan room at six degrees Celsius, regardless of temperatures outside.

The push to energy efficiency has resulted in one two unique structural components. “The balconies are a little unusual. They are steel, which allows for a big load with a smaller profile. A steel beam runs from outside to inside but where steel beams connect to band beams. Some have thermal breaks, while others do  not due to strength issues. Insulation was used to reduce thermal transference,” says Andy Smith, senior structural engineer for the project at AECOM Canada Ltd.

One of the complicating aspects of the construction process stemmed from a light rail transit (LRT) easement. “We had to construct a tunnel for the LRT under the building about 20 metres below grade. It involved some challenges with sequencing,” says Mike Roper, senior project manager with Ledcor  Construction Ltd.

The tower sits on a 2.3-metre-deep raft slab, which used about 4,000 cubic metres of concrete. “But the slab had to be set lower to accommodate the tunnel,” says Roper.

That created a void between part of the slab and the P4 level. Instead of back-filling this space with soil, a stormwater storage tank was built.