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Article: The greening of Bay Street’s modernist masterpiece

By CHRIS ATCHISON, The Globe and Mail

When construction began on the Toronto-Dominion Centre – the modernist office complex in the heart of Toronto's downtown financial district – architecture critics hailed it as a shining example of the International Style's elegant proportions and soaring minimalism.

Designed by famed German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the complex's original two towers – completed in 1969 followed by subsequent additions – were cutting-edge by the standards then.

Fast forward 40 years, though, and the six-tower TD Centre complex had begun to show its age and even looked somewhat dated next to the latest crop of towers in the downtown core.

The modernist monument could have been relegated to B-class commercial property obscurity. That is, until owner Cadillac Fairview, the development and property management giant, hit upon an innovative plan to revitalize the distinctive towers – giving the original black Mies masterworks a green reimagining.

"We work in a very competitive industry where green is a given and we wanted to differentiate this property," explains David Hoffman, Cadillac Fairview's general manager of the Toronto-Dominion Centre. "The entire financial sector was built around the TD Centre and I think many people still believe incorrectly that TD Centre is old and not environmentally friendly, but that's not the case."

Beginning with 77 King St. West in 2010, Cadillac Fairview embarked on an ambitious multi-year revitalization program borne as much of altruism – saving energy, cutting waste and promoting sweeping sustainability initiatives across the complex – as pragmatism.

The latter is driven by the business need to maintain TD Centre's tenant attractiveness, preserve its top-tier property status, and ensure strong, stable rental rates.

To date, two towers – 77 King St. West and 100 Wellington St. West – have achieved Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold and platinum certification, respectively, in the existing building operations and maintenance category.

To acknowledge these accomplishments, Cadillac Fairview was recently honoured by its peers with the REX Green Award for sustainability work at the TD Centre. It was the first time the NAIOP Greater Toronto Chapter's accolade was awarded to an existing building instead of a new-build.

The move to retrofit aging buildings such as the TD Centre is a growing trend, explains Pierre Bergevin, the Toronto-based president and CEO of commercial property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield Ltd.

"In Montreal you're going to see it because you have older stock … you'll see more retrofitting across the country. These are buildings that are more than 40 years old, but they have an advantage with their location."

As Mr. Bergevin explains, the move to reimagine aging buildings is made possible by the nature of their ownership – many fall within the portfolios of very well-capitalized institutional owners such as pension funds, who understand the cost-saving and tenant-luring value of making those improvements. And they have pockets deep enough to embark on costly renovations.

With the influx of knowledge-economy workers to condos in downtown areas in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver – not to mention the move by many large corporations to relocate operations into city centres – a focus on sustainability has become a commercial property priority, according to Mr. Bergevin.

In the case of Cadillac Fairview's TD Centre retrofit, the company invested more than $100-million in the 77 King St. tower alone on a range of improvements from replacing all 5,676 existing windows with thermally insulated panes, to trading its aging induction units with deep-lake water cooling systems.

Measures such as daytime cleaning have reduced energy consumption by 20 per cent because lights can be turned off at night. At the same time, recycling and waste management improvements have helped to maintain waste-diversion rates at about 80 per cent across the complex.

Although the 22,000-square-foot green roof – added atop the iconic low-rise TD Centre pavilion at the corner of King and Bay streets last year – may look like a garden oasis in the heart of the city, it's not for pedestrian use. It was designed instead to aid rainwater filtration and to improve air quality.

Mr. Hoffman also introduced a particularly innovative feature to help communicate the progress on the sustainability drive at TD Centre: a real-time building dashboard allows tenants to track metrics such as electricity consumption. It's just one aspect of his occupant engagement program, designed to include the roughly 21,000 people who work in the complex daily in Cadillac Fairview's sustainability push.

"The landlord can't make significant change alone," Mr. Hoffman says. His advice to other landlords who might be considering a similar strategy: Going green is tough, but worth the effort. "We've used sustainability as a smart business practice. Tenants share these same goals and we're acting on it."