Sustainable House: Toronto’s Skygarden Design

Sustainability is best achieved with an intimate integration of outdoor nature and indoor nurture. One 2016 Design Excellence Award Winner that exemplifies this integration is aptly named Skygarden House.

By Judith Stapleton

Photos By Shai Gill

Tucked into its Toronto neighbourhood of long, narrow lots on Maple treed streets, this sustainable house design by Dubbledam Architecture + Design achieves the perfect dovetail of green integration on all three levels of the home.

Light streams through every room from maximum passive solar exposure at the front, rear and top of the house and, although it is easy to see why “Skygarden” defines the project, it would be equally fair to recognize the garden influence in the kitchen, the living room, and the bathroom.

Astonishingly, this is not a new house, but a renovation of a century old, 225 square metre small-lot house that takes advantage of all the active sustainable systems and integrates them with as many low-cost passive sustainable strategies as possible. This is what is really meant by “urban renewal.”

Twentieth-century buildings that no longer meet today’s standards and tastes need not fall under a wave of demolition. Indeed, this renovated house design is organized around the old central stairway that now also functions as both a light well and a ventilation chimney, allowing the house to achieve impressive energy performance levels close to Passive House standards.

Retaining the existing shell, Skygarden House employs sustainable design strategies to open up the interior space while still occupying the same small footprint on the street. Outdoor living space is available on each level, and a green roof and paved, low-maintenance, plant filled backyard, provide a physical and emotional oasis.

New architectural design is motivated to achieve maximum sustainability and this means low maintenance and low-cost longevity for the owners. With careful spatial organization, the passive strategies, such as natural ventilation, daylighting, solar gain, and passive cooling, were fully realized, and further enhanced by integrating efficient active systems such as high-velocity cooling, in-floor radiant heating, low-flow plumbing fixtures and high-efficiency lighting.

The open riser stairs are designed to open a central shaft for both light, from the skylight at the top, and for air, from the strategically placed openable windows. This design creates a stack effect in the cooler seasons, drawing warm air upward and cool air in at the lower levels.

High-performance insulation in the walls and roof, maximum triple glazing, and mechanical ventilation with energy recovery provide advantages in all seasons, while at the same time there is a visual flow through every room to the outdoors, giving a sense of space and relationship to Nature unavailable in the dark, uninsulated little house that used to be right here on this spot.

Publishers Note: Judith Stapleton is a writer in the fields of science and medicine.

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