Any 355,000-square-foot facility will have environmental impacts. The sheer size alone implies a drain on materials, natural resources, and local ecosystems. The Richmond Olympic Oval offers a new slant on large-scale design, however, as the speed skating venue for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, earned LEED Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its green building measures.

“With such a large footprint, we tried to make it a showcase of sustainable practices,” asserts Ted Townsend, senior manager, corporate communications for the City of Richmond, British Columbia. “We wanted others to see that size does not have to impede good environmental choices.”

Grappling with the long-term viability of a showcase building on a 32-acre site also posed questions about sustainability. During the city’s due diligence process, officials from past Olympic sites around the world with vacant buildings sounded a warning: Don’t make the same mistake. Build a venue that will meet your community’s needs.

The project team responded with a design that preserves delicate surroundings, reflects the area’s culture, finds innovative ways to leverage natural resources, and provides a neighborhood amenity. Marion LaRue, principal in the Vancouver office of Cannon Design, says decisions grew from a holistic perspective. “We were not simply focused on achieving LEED credits. We designed and built the Oval to be a legacy building that would contribute to the community and sustain itself financially after the games.”

Set between the Fraser River foreshore and the Hollybridge Canal estuary, the team carefully positioned the building a significant distance away from the two waterways. Substantial views from inside the structure and from the Oval’s large plaza encourage visitors to enjoy the scenery without disturbing it. Because the water table runs just 3 feet below ground, the team installed pumps and dewatering ponds during construction to prevent any runoff from entering the surroundings. The team also maintained native plants and habitats.

Stormwater runoff from the expansive 6.5-acre roof traces a visible path across the building through sculpture-embossed channels on 15 concrete buttresses on the building’s north side. These sculptured reliefs on the buttresses, designed by Musqueam artist Susan Point, include herons, fish, and First Nations motifs to reflect the site’s cultural significance—Vancouver is located in traditional territory of the Musqueam people, one of Canada’s First Nations tribes. Some of the water runoff is directed into the building for reuse in toilets. The rest collects in a detention pond filled with native marsh plants that filter the water for on-site irrigation and improve the quality of water released into the canal. The pond also is a visual attraction.

“The stormwater management system is a prime example of the level of thought that went into each aspect of this project,” Townsend says. “Whenever a feature was incorporated for functionality, the team asked, ‘How can we make it sustainable, multifunctional, artistic, aesthetically pleasing?”

Designers programmed the space to meet the needs of an 8,000-guest Olympic sports arena but maintained flexibility to serve the neighborhood both pre- and post-Olympics. Sitting two stories above ground, the building includes a basement parking garage. The facility opened to the public in December 2008 as a fitness center, multipurpose space, and a venue for competitions.

Trees that were felled to make way for the project’s construction were repurposed into wood ceilings and paneling. The Oval’s paints, carpets, adhesives, sealants, and composite wood are low in volatile organic compounds. Before the Olympics, crews added television cameras and upgraded lighting. Spaces were converted into team and training rooms for the athletes, meeting spaces, generous media mix zones, support facilities for spectators, and an anti-doping laboratory. The sports hall, with the 1,300-foot-long speed skating track, spans across the top floor.

Converting water into ice for a skating track of that size requires a lot of energy. To recapture heat from the compressors used to cool the ice, the design team installed heat exchangers. Water-filled pipes are heated by hot air expended from the compressors. The building’s forced-air heating system then draws heat from the pipes and circulates it to the building’s offices and multipurpose spaces. According to LaRue, after warming the building, the excess heat still could potentially provide energy for approximately 700 homes.

In the wake of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Richmond Oval will experience a rebirth as an urban catalyst and community center, and the possibility of using the building as part of a district-heating strategy is one that the city hopes to make a future reality. The Oval sits on one-third of a city-owned site that is slated for waterfront community development, and the $170-million ($178-million CAD) project’s flexible design will allow it to become the development’s focal point. The speed-skating rink will be converted into two ice rinks, a track and field area, and a court area featuring hardwood and rubber flooring, and overall the structure will transition into a multisport and wellness facility that offers indoor/outdoor recreational activities, shopping, and services.

KJ Fields writes about sustainable architecture from Portland, Ore.

Staggering Efects

One of the largest clearspans in North America, the Richmond Oval roof recycles lumber damaged by a local beetle infestation.

One of the most stunning aspects of the Richmond Oval is its roof. A close collaboration between Cannon Design; Fast + Epp Structural Engineers out of Vancouver, British Columbia; and StructureCraft Builders in Delta, British Columbia, led to an aesthetic and engineering marvel that covers 6.5 acres (about four and a half football fields). Not only is the $15.2-million ($16-million CAD) roof one of the longest clear spans in North America, it is assembled with 1 million board feet of lumber from trees destroyed by mountain pine beetle (MPB) infestation.

Approximately 35.8 million acres of British Columbia’s forest has been affected by MPB infestation. The decomposing trees emit the carbon stored in the wood into the atmosphere, which makes greenhouse gases a concern and an issue that support harvest and use of the wood.

Architecturally, the curving roof recalls a heron’s wing—the City of Richmond’s official symbol. Fast + Epp designed the 330-foot glulam and steel arches that spring from the massive concrete buttresses and stretch across the vaulted six-acre space every 47 feet. StructureCraft spanned across the gaps between the arches by turning common 2x4 lumber into a novel lightweight system called the WoodWave Structural Panel.

“Converting a 2x4 into a truss that can span 40 feet required a few engineering innovations,” explains Brian Woudstra, StructureCraft’s pre-construction manager, "but it helped us find a great way to use this abundant wood."

StructureCraft created 452 WoodWave roof panels for the facility by placing 2x4s on edge. The designers spliced the panels together to form “strands,” vertically staggered them to increase their depth, and fastened them together to create 2.5-foot-deep, 4-foot-wide, 42-foot-long V-shaped “beams.” The V-shaped voids hold the sprinkler system and a noncombustible black rockwool liner that offers acoustic absorption. Each “V” was pressed into an arch, nailed together, and held in position with a steel tension tie. Each is fastened to its neighbors with a plywood “skin.” The resulting staggered wood pattern marked by strategically located black cavities offers spectators and athletes a view of a structure that carries the loads, reduces the noise, and offers an impressive overhead display.

Courtesy of Canon Design:

Green team

Architect, interior designer: Cannon Design, 
Client/owner: City of Richmond, 
Mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, lighting designer: Stantec Consulting, 
Structural engineers: Glotman+simpson,; Fast + Epp, Civil/marine engineer: Delcan, 
Geotechnical engineer, refrigeration engineer: Thurber Engineering, 
Construction manager, general contractor: Dominion Construction Co., 
Landscape architect: Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, 
Security consultant: 3Si Risk Strategies
Cost consultant: BTY Group, 
Wildlife and ecology consultant: ECL Envirowest Consultants, 
Urban designer: Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden, 
Building envelope consultant: Morrison Hershfield, 
Code/fire/life safety consultant: LMDG Building Code Consultants,
Operations consultant: University of Calgary, 
Wayfinding/signage consultant: Karo Group,

Materials and Sources

Acoustical system: Schick Shiner & Associates, 
Building management systems and services, lighting control systems, wires, cables, and communications: ESC Automation, 
Carpet: Fast Track Floors
Ceilings: Structurecraft, 
Curtain wall, exterior aluminum, exterior cladding, metal decking, polycarbonate, roofing, insulation, and siding: Flynn, 
Doors, exterior glazing, and windows: Advanced Glazing Systems, AGS/Landmark, 
Elevators and escalators: Kone, 
Energy management controls: Georgia Mechanical
Exterior architectural coating: EIFS
Exterior architectural metals: CP Distributors, 
Exterior slab waterproofing: J.R. Trory
Exterior spray fireproofing: Greer, 
Fire alarm, fire suppression system, HVAC, and life safety: SimplexGrinnell, 
Flooring: APEX Granite and Tile,; Fast-Track Flooring; Robbins Flooring, 
Furniture: City of Richmond; Trident Millwork
Glass blocks: Sensitile Systems; 
HVAC, plumbing, and water systems: Stantec
Ice rink, ice slab
: Bry Sand Ice Arena, 
Insulation and interior walls: Winwood Construction, 
Interior doors and door hardware: McGregor & Thompson, 
Lighting, landscape fountain, and lighting controls and power: Status Electrical, 
Lockers, sinks, toilets, and washroom cubicle doors: Shanahan’s Specialties, 
Masonry: Limen Group, 
Millwork: Trident Millwork and Displays Ornamental metal, space frames, skylights, structural system, and decking: George 3rd & Son, 
Paints and finishes: Concord Painting and Wallcovering, 
Paving bricks: Terra Design
Plumbing fixtures: Georgia Mechanical
Refrigeration system: Cimco Refrigeration, 
Railings: Landmark Glass
Shrubs, trees, and flowers: CLC/Terra Design
Signs: Knight Signs, 
Windows: Advanced Glazing Systems; Landmark Glass