As Phase One of the Plenty Canada CampUs renovations draw to a close, it feels like a fitting time to pause and reflect on the principles that have guided the process so far. This Trillium Foundation funded capital project has allowed our organization to become even more rooted and connected to this beautiful Algonquin environment, as we invest in renovating our structures and planning our work for generations to come.
Buildings too often have the effect of separating us from our surroundings, yet they are essential components of our daily lives that influence how we interpret and interact between human-constructed and natural environments. The layout of our rooms and common areas affect how we gather. Windows and doors facilitate our connections to the outdoors. And the materials we choose determine the impacts we have on our surroundings.
The work we do on, and within, our buildings present us with opportunities to do great good or great harm. Such opportunities challenge us to define what we believe is important. Under the leadership of Plenty Canada Executive Director Larry McDermott, we have continually asked ourselves these fundamental questions. Through the lens of Two-Eyed Seeing, what does sustainable building look like? Within the rubric of truth and reconciliation and environmental justice, how can our buildings reflect our values and our work?
To answer these questions, we turned to important voices in the field of Indigenous architecture. These include internationally renowned architect Douglas Cardinal and the seventeen other distinguished Indigenous architects who created the exhibition Unceded: Voices of the Land for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. We also consulted Patrick Stewart’s dissertation Indigenous Architecture through Indigenous Knowledge: Dion Sagalt'apkw Nisim (Together We Will Build a Village). In addition, Bruce King and Chris Magwood, who have advanced to mainstream audiences, data related to carbon storage within buildings, were important influences on our thinking. From those sources, we developed a starting point to define sustainable building practices at Plenty Canada. These include:
Place-based approach: To design buildings that operate in conjunction with our surroundings, using local materials and employing a collaborative design process.
Embracing, representing, and reflecting Indigenous culture: To provide a space for cultural practices, teachings, and ceremonies where multiple generations may gather.
Ecological Responsibility: To design our buildings and the surrounding landscape to be safe for human and non-human users to protect and enhance biodiversity and be low-carbon in construction and operation.
Our current building industry is doing well at producing energy-efficient buildings. However, at Plenty Canada, we are equally concerned with how we get energy-efficient buildings. We are concerned with where the materials come from and the impacts of harvesting and manufacturing. We are concerned with the safety of installation for our tradespeople and with how materials will impact indoor air quality and the health of our occupants. We are also concerned with what toxins materials put into our surroundings and how much carbon was emitted into the environment from their extraction, manufacturing, and transportation.
That’s a lot to take into consideration. But as an example, let’s examine Plenty Canada’s wall system to see how we have made our decisions.
1. Fibreboard: We wrapped the whole building in a layer of fibreboard to increase insulation value. This fibreboard is manufactured in Quebec and is 97 percent wood fibre, with the rest being a wax binder. The most common choice for continuous insulation today is rigid foam panels. However, fibreboard has many fewer negative impacts on our environment and is, in fact, a carbon sink.
2. Weather and air barrier: Durability is essential for low-impact buildings and the number one obstacle to durability is water. We must keep our buildings dry. We selected a very durable, 3-ply weather barrier that while airtight, is vapour permeable so any moisture in the building can dry to the exterior. (Buildings don’t need to breathe, but they do need to dry.)
3. Rain screen and strapping: Strapping is essential to allow airflow behind our building and encourage drying. Strapping should only be laid vertically against the building wall, to allow drainage. If vertical siding is installed (as in our case), a second layer of horizontal strapping should be installed. In our case, we were able to reuse our old, weathered cedar siding as strapping.
4. Eastern white cedar siding: This siding was supplied by Don McGovern who runs a cedar mill just down the road from the Plenty Canada CampUs. Cedar has excellent longevity as siding because of its natural oils. Unlike western red cedar, eastern white cedar is grown in our local area and transported minimal distances.
5. Linseed Oil Paint: Linseed oil paint is an all-natural paint made of boiled linseed (flax) oil and natural pigments. It contains no solvents and is free from petroleum products. The oil penetrates the wood, rather than forming a coat, like latex paint. Because of this, the paint doesn’t peel, it simply fades. The paint is much more durable than latex paints and stains, which is of particular concern for the south and west facing sides of our buildings.
As the exterior of the building finishes up, we turn to the interior renovations. We have selected linseed oil paints for the interior, as well as Marmoleum flooring, a resilient flooring made from flax.
While social distancing has disrupted our in-person workshops, we are grateful to the opportunity to create a healthy and welcoming space for our programming. We look forward to opening our doors in the near future for our workshops and gatherings. We hope the work on our CampUs will help demonstrate the important role of sustainable building within our mission and inspire our visitors to apply Two-Eyed Seeing principles to building projects in their own lives.
— Lindey Touzel
Introducing Lindey Touzel
Lindey Touzel is an aspiring natural builder, having come to this field five years ago while seeking the intersection of environmental justice, craft, and design. She graduated from Algonquin College’s Heritage Carpentry program in 2020, after spending two years learning from passionate craftspeople who believe in thoughtful building. It was during this time that she started working for Plenty Canada on what has now become the CampUs capital project. Lindey says it has been an honour learning how to apply the principles of Two-Eyed Seeing to the field of sustainable building and to contribute to this important project.