Oxford County Waste Management and Education Centre
In 2015, the regional municipality of Oxford County, located some 140 kilometres west of Toronto, established an ambitious strategic goal to become a zero waste community by 2025 and a 100 per cent renewable energy community by 2050. Emerging as a direct result of this initiative, the new Oxford County Waste Management and Education Centre sets an admirable precedent for the community projects yet to be realized.
Designed by Michael A. Wilson Architect, the 4,000-sq.-ft. centre improves administrative functions while also supporting public-facing needs. In addition to private offices, a conference room and staff facilities, the new building, which sits on the county’s existing landfill site, contains education spaces to enlighten visitors on best practices in waste management. Operating as an aspirational net-zero building itself, the centre offers demonstrations and information to help inspire an understanding of renewable energy initiatives county-wide.
Completed in fall 2018, the centre’s performance will be measured against the New Building Institute’s (NBI) Zero Net Energy Criteria after a 12-month period. To meet these energy goals, architect Michael Wilson, whose interest in sustainable design goes back some 30 years, established a reliable program of efficient materials and construction processes. “When I was in school, my thesis proposal was for an autonomous house. At the time, it wasn’t seen as the most ambitious project, but it’s something that I’ve wanted to do ever since,” he says. “As soon as I got the go-ahead to start the conceptual design for this project, rammed earth came to mind.”
The building’s rammed earth walls are arguably its most characteristic feature. An ancient technique embraced most recently in sustainable construction, rammed earth consists of natural materials hand-placed in shallow lifts and compacted using nomadic hammers. In this case, dry-mix concrete with added pigment provides pleasing colour variations, while the entire system ensures durability, strength and thermal massing. The end result echoes layers of sedimentary rock found in nature, or the stacks of waste disposed nearby.
Other renewable energy efforts include an airtight envelope; wood-frame construction; roof water collection; and windows sourced from a local Mennonite company. “Finding passive windows that would naturally fit the geometry of the building was a challenge,” says Wilson. The resulting clerestory windows work well within the design while allowing for natural lighting of the space.
Inside, found timber has been reclaimed as a feature wall, while polished concrete floors contribute to the comfortable natural aesthetics of the space. “My childhood fossil collection is included in that floor,” says Wilson of the tactile and colourful bits of debris.
The project saw contributions from numerous industry professionals including Greg Leskien of Zon Engineering and rammed earth specialist James Blackman. If successful in its pursuit of efficiency, the centre will be among Canada’s first buildings to be verified as Zero Net Energy by the NBI.
Photography by Mark Burnham