Engineering a culture of innovation

Over its 50 years in Ottawa, Halsall Associates has paid attention to the details.

By Michael Hammond.

The engineering firm, which recently celebrated a half-century in the capital, has left its mark on a number of projects. While some of its work is readily noticeable, such as the glass lantern atop the Canadian Museum of Nature, some of its work will never been seen.

Recently, OBJ spoke with Dan Carson, a senior project manager and 36-year veteran with the company, to discuss the highlights of some of Halsall’s more notable projects in the capital.

Canadian Museum of Nature

Almost as soon as construction of the historic Victoria Memorial Museum building was completed in 1911, the clay on which it was built began to undermine the structure. This included its main tower, which faced north toward Parliament Hill. The tower began to tilt and was taken down in 1915.

Work to stabilize and rehabilitate the building began in 2001, Mr. Carson recalled. Halsall worked on a number of elements of the projects, including the design of an additional structure that houses offices, workplaces and loading docks. This was critical, since it allowed the actual museum to be used solely for exhibition purposes.

Halsall also designed what Mr. Carson called a “seismic upgrade” for the building with steel bracing. This helped stabilize the building, which “has been settling its whole life,” atop the clay, Mr. Carson said.

The pièce de résistance was the creation of the glass lantern, which pays tribute to the building’s original tower, while also adding a modern touch.

TD Place stadium

Halsall not only played a role in shaping the new south-side stands, it also worked to rehabilitate the north-side stands, including the giant steel girders that supported the roof over those stands. Mr. Carson said one of the biggest challenges was that no one had been inside the steel box girders since the north stands were built. This meant a great deal of attention was needed in rehabilitating the girders and modifying the roof to ensure it was able to handle the snowfall in the Ottawa winter.

In addition to designing new corporate suites and a wooden veil on the south side of the stadium, specific focus was given to making the south stands a little steeper, so that fans could be closer to the action on the field.

Rideau Canal chalets

These chalets were better known for their $750,000 price tag when introduced, but designing the sleek new buildings for Ottawa’s winter skating season was no small feat. Mr. Carson said his company “had to account for the fact that they have to be lifted,” which meant “every pound of material that went into them had to have a good reason for being there.”

These structures, which won multiple design awards, also had to withstand the rigours of being transported, which meant making sure materials such as the glass windows needed to withstand bumps without cracking. The curved steel ribs had to be specifically engineered for these buildings.

Environmental consulting – Sun Life Financial Centre, Accora Village

Halsall has a specialization in environmental consulting in the city, including its work to help the Sun Life building on Bank and O’Connor streets achieve LEED Gold certification. Halsall conducted a thorough assessment of the building’s systems, including thermal heat scans and water consumption tracking, to help convert the structure into an environmentally friendly building. Mr. Carson described the process as “changing the way the whole building functions.” The office tower is the only one in Ottawa with such a designation and one of only 13 in Canada, the building’s owners said.

Halsall has also contributed to the ongoing transformation of the Accora Village rental community near the Bayshore Shopping Centre. Halsall worked with the property manager on the community’s green plan. This included consultations on needed capital improvements for the community, which is home to 2,400 residential units in 10 highrises and 986 townhomes. One of the highlights of that work included the design of a ground source heat pump for one of the buildings.

Algonquin Centre for Construction Excellence

This building was designed to be a “living laboratory” for Algonquin College students. Halsall designed the building with a variety of materials, including structural steel, precast concrete and timber, all to add to the learning environment for students studying the trades. The structure includes a variety of green elements, including a green roof, a living wall and rainwater recycling systems. Given its proximity to the Transitway, a great deal of effort was made to ensure the building absorbs the force of vibrations instead of resisting this energy. This feature will also help the building cope with potential earthquakes, which is an important consideration in an area like Ottawa, which is known for its occasional seismic activity