WHERE: 471 Cecelia Rd. Victoria
WHO: Connect Landscape Architecture and Garyali Architect Inc.

From the vantage point of Cecelia Road, the living roof of the Burnside Gorge Community Centre almost disguises itself as a garden. Publicly accessible gravel paths wind between drifts of native flowers, succulents, and grasses. From the undulating concrete railing, the public can look over the community garden, Cecelia Ravine, and the Galloping Goose Trail.

David Stoyko, of Connect Landscape Architecture, says that the roof was designed to mimic the original Garry oak ecosystem, now threatened by development. This climate-adapted design not only reduces the amount of water and nutrients required, it also provides habitat for local wildlife and an educational opportunity for the many children who use the centre. In fact, 90 per cent of the site functions as green space—helping it win the 2009 Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Extensive Institutional Green Roof Award of Excellence.

Inside, wood panelling covers much of the polished concrete interior and warms the natural light from the large windows, which reduce the need for artificial light by up to 80 per cent. The few light fixtures are shielded and strategically placed to cut down on evening light pollution, which benefits both nocturnal animals and stargazers.

view of the lower floor or the centre, with the curved roof above and wild flowers in the foreground.
Photos: City of Victoria

Suzanne Cole, executive director of Burnside Gorge, explains that before the centre opened, programming occurred across many different sites, including portables, offices, and school gyms. Now the community has a hub, and participants love it. “It’s stroller and wheelchair friendly, something many of our other buildings lacked,” says Cole. “And it’s clean, it’s new, and it’s beautiful. It’s like nothing we’d had before.”

Cole leads an exuberant tour of the lower level where programs occur. Built on a slope, the bottom half of the building would feel subterranean if it wasn’t for the windows in the hallway that allow the natural light in the event rooms to penetrate the building—a creative solution from Garyali Architect Inc.

Exploring the hallway that bisects the building, Cole points to educational panels on the wall that allow visitors to act as their own tour guides. Along with infant-tot drop-ins, pre-school, and high school programming, the centre also offers fitness classes for retirees and the elderly. Rooms can be rented out for community and private programs and there is even a small movie theatre for teens. Cole estimates the centre served over 2,000 families and 65,000 people in 2015.

Back upstairs, Thomas Soulliere, director of parks, recreation, and facilities for the City of Victoria, explains that all aspects of the building were sustainably designed. Every toilet and faucet is ultra low flush, saving 610,000 litres of water per year. The permeable parking lot, green roof, rain garden, and swale (essentially a sloped rain garden) filter and absorb rainwater and direct any excess into a drainage system, recharging Cecelia Creek. The rehabilitation of Cecelia Creek informed the entire construction of the centre, including during site excavation, when an erosion control plan ensured sediment would not pollute the waterway.

View of the centre from Cecelia Road.

Completed in 2007, the building didn’t function perfectly right away. Some of the living-roof plants died. The on-demand heating needed adjustment because the constant traffic caused the system’s energy use to spike. However, the management team overcame setbacks, and now the centre has reduced its CO2 production by 160,000 tonnes.

For the future, Soulliere says the city has begun to track the energy use per square foot so managers can compare buildings across Victoria. “This was the City’s first LEED-certified building,” he says, “and the organization has committed to applying those sustainable principles and practices in all major renovations and construction projects.”

— Robert Morris

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