As of January 2019, Calgary had an office vacancy of 25.4%. Due to its recent recession and many architecturally outdated buildings, LiD and GXN set out to transform and upcycle these material and spatial banks through the principles of the circular economy, prefabricated architecture, and digital fabrication.
The recession beginning in 2014 yielded a sharp and extended drop in office demand that left the downtown core with an oversupply of vacant commercial real estate. This fluctuation brought depressed pricing and insufficient tax revenue, while at the same time intensifying the desire for improved spatial qualities and programmatic amenities. This left approximately 12 million square feet of spatial waste in downtown Calgary.
Amidst this central spatial waste in Calgary lies The Britannia Building. The Britannia Building is a 1970s-era, nine-storey office building with 133,000 square feet of leasable area, 70% of which was vacant in 2018. This building is classified by real-estate assessors as a Class C space
(the lowest classification in the Calgary market) based on criteria such as poor spatial quality, failing envelope, and more. Based on these factors, The Britannia Building is unable to compete in the current market where premium office space has become affordable and there is a lack of tenants. With market forecasts projecting a slow moving and prolonged recovery of Calgary real estate demand in the near future, Britannia is a building that appears to be reaching its end-of-life in profitability.
The MacKimmie Tower is a 1970s-era building on the University of Calgary campus that also faced issues with wasted space. Like Britannia, the MacKimmie Tower has been recognized as a structure with a longer potential physical lifespan, that requires transformation to be valuable again. Therefore, the MacKimmie Tower project is setting a new precedent by undertaking a transformative renovation to regain value, while avoiding the waste and costs of demolition.
This research project explores how design might enable new, market value alternatives that mitigate spatial waste in projects such as the Britannia Building. Our objective is to address Britannia’s inadequacies through the application of an innovative material-focused business model that utilizes the MacKimmie Tower as a resource bank, and to apply circular design strategies to enhance the long-term value of these buildings and minimize their various forms of waste.