Credit: Bruce Carscadden Architect

Guest blogger series:

Crawling Toward Sustainability

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts in which Emma will track the progress of her office to become more sustainable. Next up, heating!

Consider the building pictured here. Imagine that you’ve bought it and you’re going to do a full green renovation. What would you do to turn this former karaoke bar into a bright, healthy office space for your business? Are you thinking about a green roof? Solar panels? Getting rid of the Spanish tiles?

Now consider this: Your nine employees have to be working in this space in less than three months, and the budget is very small. Also, there is no heat, no lights and no toilet. Would these challenges change your plans? Would you sacrifice sustainability in favour of whatever you could get done in time for moving day?

Best laid plans

This is the situation that Bruce Carscadden Architect faced in late 2008. And while these challenges may have put the full renovation on hold, they haven’t kept us from continuing to plan. Nor have they kept us from keeping the necessities sustainable, as we quickly found that the smallest steps and the most basic changes can easily be made to lessen our footprint.

But first, back to the grand plans. They’re more fun. For our new office at 715 East Hastings Street, we have visions of wood-panelled front and rear façades—using reclaimed wood, of course. The back of our lot is currently concrete, and we hope to transform it into a lush garden and patio for client respite (the boardroom will open to the yard) and hot dog days. Throw in a green, occupiable roof and we’ll be the coolest kids on the block.

Green roof design


Green roof options

The roof is actually one of the most exciting aspects, as it affords us the ability to experiment with the space. We will test green roof systems that we can use in our projects, install solar panels and rainwater collection systems, and provide roof access.

It’s the little things

These renovations won’t stand alone to make our office green though; the little steps are as important as the broad sweeping changes to contributing to sustainability. We employ the belief that sustainability isn’t just about “deep green” installations and fluorescent bulbs—it’s also about reusing existing materials, contributing to the local economy and doing more with less.

One small part of our initial green renovation was identifying areas for reuse. The building was almost entirely empty, but amongst the junk in the basement we found two old toilets. We could have purchased and installed a shiny new dual-flush toilet, but there is also an inherent sustainability in reusing. Reinstalling the old toilet kept it out of the garbage pile and landfill—and kept us from consuming more by purchasing a new one. And we can always make our own low-flow toilet for next to nothing!

Renovating with sustainability in mind


Green retrofits and additions don’t have to be big to make a big impact, and they don’t have to happen all at once. We’ll continue to add and adapt our sustainable features on an indefinite timeline—it could even only be one or two changes a year.

Gentle progress will not negatively impact our journey towards a sustainable workplace, and the positive changes will have a positive impact on our office and on the Earth.

This is the first in a series of guest blog posts in which Emma will track the progress of her company to become more sustainable. Next up, heating!


The Bruce Carscadden Architect crew

bruce carscadden ARCHITECT inc is a boutique architecture and planning firm, based in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside since 2000. Specializing in recreation, institutional and commercial projects for public and private clients, BCA is committed to producing beautiful and thoughtful buildings, and finding green and sustainable solutions within a client’s budget.  Almost everyone rides a bike to work.

Emma Carscadden is the promotions and marketing assistant at BCA, and writes proposals, submissions and copy for the website. She’s also in charge of setting up the office’s worm composter.