Evergreen Brick Works: Past and Present Working Together for A Greener Future

When I first heard the name Evergreen Brick Works, I thought I was going to be touring a brick factory that happened to be going green. Although in the past, the site was manufacturing plant for bricks, at present that is no longer case.  Granted, in one way, Evergreen Brick Works is continuing the legacy of its predecessors, creating building blocks.  But instead of physical brick and mortar, Evergreen Brick Works seeks to be a convergence zone for innovative ideas, i.e. creating building blocks for a sustainable future.

Evergreen Brick Works (EBW) is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, just a short hop away from downtown.  It was created by, and is home to, Evergreen, a Canadian national charity, “that makes cities more livable.”  Cisco covered travel costs for me to Toronto, so I could to learn about their Smart+Connected concept and technologies first hand.  Part of this concept is Smart+Connected Communities.  Evergreen Brick Works is one of Cisco Canada’s technology partners.

The greener future
Stepping foot onto EBW, I could not understand what the site was about, but it felt right.  I was greeted by a farmers market, serving locally baked breads and selling locally grown vegetables. A cafe piqued my interest for building community over food and libations. A garden market caught my curiosity, bringing native plants and organic and heritage food plants to the community. A formerly dead quarry was transformed into a living pond and restored ravine. I thought I was in green heaven. No wonder, in 2010, National Geographic named EBW as one of the top 10 geotourism destinations.

Geoff Cape, Executive Director of Evergreen, says the organization’s goal is “to develop the project (EBW) as an international space or venue, about the future of usability of cities.  Convene leaders, showcase innovation, build smarter cities, inform more important decision making in the future.”

If you ask this writer, I think EBW showcases the building blocks for this, locally, which translates just as well globally.  What better way to inform important decision making than to actually live it?  Cape continues, “Networks of relations don’t mean anything unless you get to the action.”

The present in the midst of the past
EBW is not only a hub to connect people and ideas, it is also a living example of how to build sustainably.  Walking around, you can see relics of industry housed in skeletal shells of buildings: kilns once used to fire bricks, old chimney shoots where smoke once polluted the air, and massive machineries used to process materials raw material.

An example of a greenway.

Cleverly designed in the midst of these skeletons and relics are greenways with grasses and shrubs.  These plants help to slow rainwater and carry it along the stormwater management pond. Rainwater runoff from buildings are also stored in cisterns, to reuse with gardens and toilets.

During the tour of EBW, lead architect Joe Lobko of Dtah, spoke of resource use innovations, by “not depending on mechanical systems as much as possible.”  The window to wall ratio was taken into account to allow for the most natural daylight, yet the best thermal insulation.  One of the buildings on the site also makes use of solar chimneys, utilizing nature to assist air circulation in the building.  It’s interesting to see the traditional chimney juxtaposed with the modern, sustainable, solar chimney.

Working together
“You can only be relevant if you are relevant locally.”  EBW is definitely living and breathing its mission locally.  What other organizations around the world have a similar mission in your region?  What clever ideas and innovations have they incorporated into green building or community building?

Image Credit: Top, Evergreen Brick Works; Bottom, Jonathan Mariano.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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