Reinventing the Way You Build

The story behind the making of evolv1 – Canada’s greenest building

What does it take to build Canada’s greenest building? If you ask Adrian Conrad, COO of the Cora Group, it’s a potent combination of vision and teamwork, a series of providential but highly beneficial encounters, and more than one’s fair share of persistence.

evolv1’s story begins with the Conrad family itself. Founded by Manfred Conrad with son Adrian now at the helm, the Cora Group is one Waterloo Region’s most established and respected developers of commercial real estate. The company has a strong track record in building sustainably. In 2011, its InnoTECH building, located at 300 Hagey Boulevard in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park, was awarded Waterloo’s first LEED® Gold designation for new construction, a rare achievement at the time for a multi-tenant building.

But as a family that feels very strongly about living sustainably and in creating a greener future, the Conrads wanted to make an even stronger statement with their next project.

“In 2013, we began thinking about our next building in the R+T Park, and we knew with 420 Wes Graham way we wanted to push boundaries of what could be done,” says Adrian. “It was a real family vision. My father, myself and my mother, we are all very passionate about a sustainable lifestyle. So with this new project, we wanted to try to do something very different. We wanted to push our own comfort level as developers to create not only a sustainable building, but a better building for tenants and their employees.”

At around the same time Cora Group began imagining 420 Wes Graham, Adrian became aware of Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR), a not-for-profit with a vision to create an environmentally and economically resilient community in Waterloo Region. SWR prioritizes well-being and sustainability, and long dreamed of building a net positive energy building in Waterloo Region. When Cora and SWR finally sat down together, it was obvious there was a strong alignment and a shared vision. “And from that,” says Adrian, “the evolv1 project was born.”

EY, 420 Wes Graham’s anchor tenant, the University of Waterloo and the R+T Park soon joined Cora Group and SWR at the table to begin conceptualizing the new building. “We had this idea and vision. We didn’t know how we were going to get there, but in true Waterloo fashion, we looked at each other and said, ‘you know what, let’s just figure it out together’ and so we started,” says Adrian.

With a shared project goal in hand, the team set out to find a design firm that could deliver on their vision. “Through that process, we selected Stantec,” explains Adrian. “The firm has a tremendous bandwidth of knowledge. Usually, with projects, you’ll hire an architect, and they will hire sub-consultants. But Stantec had everything under one roof. And not only did they have everything under one roof, they had rockstars. Their sustainability team – based in Toronto and Vancouver –  just thinks outside the box and shared my passion for what was possible. Their solar team was here in Waterloo. Their geothermal and hydrogeology team was here in Waterloo. Their architecture team was here in Waterloo and Toronto. When you are trying to build a net positive building — something on a scale of complexity that hasn’t been done before — that integration of disciplines is very important. Stantec offered that capability.”

Through a long design process, Adrian and the team encountered their fair share of pushback from various players, including service providers and even layers of government. “There was a lot of back and forth because there was still a lot of conventional thinking. We were reinventing the way you build. And when you are looking to change the way something has always been done, you need to throw some of that conventional thinking out the window.”

In the end, Adrian, with his expertise, was able to pull the team together to focus on creating a new and revolutionary building process. “I’m sure there were times I frustrated people to no end and continue to do so,” he chuckles. “But you are not going to deliver change by doing status quo. I had to take people out of their comfort zone.”

With the design of evolv1 60 percent complete, Cora Group then brought on Melloul Blamey as the builder to translate the vision from paper into steel and glass.

“Through that process, we have been able to deliver something that is truly very impressive, and more importantly prove to the entire industry zero carbon can be done and is financially feasible,” says Adrian. “Does it cost a bit more? Yes it does. But if you are undertaking a high-quality building, it is not costing significantly more to build zero carbon. With evolv1, we have been able to create and prove out a business model that can be replicated at market rates. Which the industry didn’t think was possible.”

But let’s pause and simply admire the result: evolv1. Although it is still under construction, the building has just been named Canada’s first Zero Carbon Building, awarded the design certification by the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) under the organization’s brand new Zero Carbon Building Standard. evolv1 is one of 16 projects across Canada selected to be a part of an elite Zero Carbon Pilot program, and the first building in Canada of any kind to be awarded certification.

“CaGBC’s vision for zero carbon 100 percent aligned with our vision for evolv1,” says Adrian. “We were actually permit in hand when we were invited to join the pilot program.”

Adrian’s office at 300 Hagey Drive looks out onto the evolv1 construction site. For the last year, he’s watched as his vision has come to life.  Due for completion the summer of 2018 evolv1 — Canada’s greenest building — will feature a three-story atrium with expansive living wall, a floating staircase, lots of natural wood and sustainable features such as solar carports, EV charging stations and dimmable LED lighting.

“There’s lots of technology in evolv1, and as a University of Waterloo math grad, I love that,” smiles Adrian. “From the geothermal, to the solar walls, two-inch thick triple-paned windows, this place is packed with cool sustainable features.

But we’ve also created a better building. A beautiful, healthy space where people in this Region can work and gather. It’s a first of its kind, groundbreaking building, and it’s turning out to be everything we — our family and the original concept team — hoped it would be.”