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sustainable penthouse

Luxury Penthouse with a Sustainable Touch

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Oct 11, 2019

Penthouses are usually associated with expense and luxury, and thus astronomical prices per square foot. However, in downtown Edmonton, Canada, one architect spotted a perfect opportunity to renovate a mechanical room that had fallen into disuse—a space she could transform into a penthouse she could call her own.

Architect Vivian Manasc, LEED®AP and a senior principal with Manasc Isaac, which has offices in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, was touring the New Cambridge Lofts. The Lofts had initially been designed in 1968 by the architectural firm Richards Berretii Jellenick as a modern office building. During the tour, an old mechanical room caught her eye.

Where others might have only seen a dilapidated, windowless warehouse constructed of metal cladding, Manasc saw the potential for a gorgeous, 19th-floor, Manhattan-style penthouse that would become her future home. Despite not having any insulation and just one door, Manasc saw the space's potential for unparalleled views and abundant natural light.

Back in the day, the building had offered prime office space. In 2002 the building was converted into condominiums with 200 residential and commercial units. During its conversion to residences, the old mechanical systems used to power the office space was removed and upgraded to more energy-efficient alternatives. In 2014, extensive streetscaping enhanced the building's desirability. However, the top-floor mechanical room was abandoned—and was an unattractive blot on the city's skyline.

"It was just sitting there vacant," says Manasc of the structure. Her firm specializes in sustainable design and has completed many projects, including the first LEED Gold project built in the Arctic. "We were touring the building to look at the conditions. When we happened to come across this big empty building, I saw it as an opportunity ripe for picking."

Manasc purchased the mechanical building in January 2011. Her ambitious renovations of the old structure into her new sustainable home began that spring.

edmonton penthouse
Photo Credit: Manasc Isaac

Artful Touches

Today, Manasc's 250-square-meter (2,690-square-foot) penthouse is easily recognizable. Its eye-catching colored glass panels add a vibrant touch amid the primarily black and gray steel skyline. Because the renovation took place on the building's 19th floor, Manasc says she could add these creative touches.

While a mix of bright colors might be a bit too much in another neighborhood, "when you're designing something that seems far away, you can be bold with the color choices," she says. The penthouse's location high above the street allowed them to add an array of exciting colors to the skyline.

sustainable renovation
Photo Credit: Manasc Isaac

The penthouse's yellow, green, and blue glass panels also enhance the overall aesthetic of the New Cambridge Lofts building. Each of the building's elevators features eye-catching art. On each floor, red, blue, and lime color schemes alternate in the common areas and include vibrant wall colors and carpet, and custom glass signage. Recently, condominium owners contracted Edmontonian artist Jason Blower to create a mural that transformed a previously drab, interior concrete wall into an artistic depiction of the city.

For the interior of the penthouse, Manasc also incorporated "a warm color palette to keep the inside of the home bright," she says. Artwork suspended light fixtures with colorful shades, mid-century style furnishings upholstered in bright colors, and lively patterns add to the vibrancy of the open-plan space.

sustainable kitchen reno
Photo Credit: Manasc Isaac

Simple Sustainability

Manasc constructed her penthouse in a city where the average low temperature in January is only 5 degrees Fahrenheit (-15 degrees Celsius). Her home, however, maintains a comfortable temperature as it's "primarily warmed by the waste heat generated by the floors below us and from the elevator machine room," she explains. Instead of piping waste heat out the building, in other words, the penthouse takes advantage of its strategic position on top of the building.

The penthouse has low heating requirements, Manasc says because the entire building is wrapped in high-performance, fiber glass-framedtriple glazed windows. "The penthouse also has a strict building envelope to minimize heat loss," she explains. The all-glass structure of the penthouse offers unparalleled views, while the fiberglass frames provide an extremely tight building envelope that is on par with passive house standards.

An electric, solar panel system also powers Manasc's penthouse. "We have 12 panels that are 300 watts each," Manasc explains. "While that is not a huge amount of energy, that was the space we had to work with (during the renovation)." Two small gas fireplaces provide offer supplemental heat on frigid days.

The penthouse also requires no mechanical air conditioning. Due to the relatively mild summers in Edmonton, the home's rooftop location allows Manasc to take advantage of the breezes moving through the city. "We just open the windows," she says. "We purposefully designed big doors and windows to take advantage of the cross breezes from the top of the building."

Challenges and Solutions

One of the biggest challenges Manasc faced when renovating the old mechanical room into her rooftop penthouse was getting building materials up to the top of the building. "We didn't have a big power crane, so there were a lot of logistics to get materials up here," she says. "Once we were able to get things up here, it was a relatively easy place to build."

Manasc has used her extensive experience with sustainable building technologies and techniques to design research facilities, workplaces, government buildings, health centers, schools, coffee shops and cafes, and college and single-family residences in collaboration with her firm. Recognized as one of the country's top sustainable architects, she is a Canada Green Building Council director and a founding member of the Sustainable Buildings Symposium. She is also co-author of the book Agora Borealis: Engaging in Sustainable Architecture.

In their article "Deconstruction Over Demolition: Manasc Isaac Architects," authors David Campbell, Dana Dusterhoft, and Jonathon Schell wrote that," Everyday activism is a topic that encompasses a variety of sustainable processes and behaviors like turning off lights in a room that is not in use or turning off water taps while brushing teeth, but also challenging large-scale projects. This sentiment has been embraced by Manasc Isaac, an Edmonton, Alberta-based architectural firm with a focus on sustainable design."

As for homeowners interested in renovating an older home to achieve greater energy efficiency and incorporate more sustainability, Manasc suggests starting with examining current windows. "Whether you chose wood or fiberglass frames, opting for triple glazed windows is important for residential homes," she says. "Having good daylight reduces the need for electricity. In our case, we use minimal artificial lighting." In her penthouse, "Our windows offer us excellent views, a naturally bright interior, while still allowing us to stay efficient."

Manasc recommends that homeowners consider the orientation of their homes to take advantage of passive solar heating. "If you can, make sure you have good shading on the west and south faces of your home. Orientate your house so that it takes advantage of the sun. Especially in our climate, you also definitely want well-insulated walls, including the foundation walls down to the basement."

Manasc also recommends including a radiant heating option as part of a sustainable upgrade. "In-floor heating options are more comfortable and much more energy-efficient than forced-air heating systems," she says. In a climate like Edmonton, air conditioners are also unnecessary, with a design that focuses on reducing heat gain and maximizing summer shading. "Incorporating solar panels on a roof can also reduce heat gain," she adds.

We love to learn about these more sustainable homes. What makes this renovated penthouse even better is that it was once an unutilized space. Kudos to Manasc for spotting this opportunity!

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-10-16T16:20:33+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.