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MURB Design in Canada: Navigating Urbanization Shift, Systems Thinking, and Performance Evaluation

The Changing Landscape of Canadian Housing

Canada is experiencing a paradigm shift towards urbanization, transforming the age-old dream of single-family homes into high-density, multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs). But what’s important to remember is that quality housing serves as more than just a roof over your head—it has profound societal, health, and economic implications. This article aims to serve as a comprehensive guide for those embroiled in MURB design, in the face of these new urban dynamics.

The Big Picture: Rules of Thumb for MURB Design

Quality housing is not a guarantee but a fine balance of aesthetics, functionality, sustainability, and community well-being. Several rules of thumb can guide designers away from major pitfalls, among them being the integral role of housing quality in determining the quality of life, human health, and even national economic factors such as healthcare and education.

Building as a System: A Holistic Approach to Design

The ‘building as a system’ approach is an evolution in building science, demanding an understanding of the intricate relationships between its various components like the building enclosure, inhabitants, mechanical/electrical systems, site & services infrastructure, and external environment. This systemic view ensures the building performs optimally as a whole, promoting interdisciplinary design and planning.

The Overlooked Importance of Building Performance Evaluation

One area where the ‘building as a system’ approach becomes especially significant is in the performance evaluation of buildings. Historically, building typologies like MURBs were developed through trial and error, with performance often being overlooked. As long as these buildings were affordable, durable, and met the basic needs of the inhabitants, issues like thermal comfort and air quality were generally ignored.

This changed with the Industrial Revolution, bringing in a wave of construction innovation. However, this rapid departure from traditional architectural practices was not supplemented by mechanisms to objectively assess building performance. This gap often led to compromises on housing quality and even had dire consequences for the occupants.

Measurement and Verification: Closing the Feedback Loop

The absence of a feedback loop connecting all stakeholders—from designers to occupants—has been a significant shortcoming. The political will to measure and verify building performance is increasingly acknowledged as necessary. Several protocols and procedures now exist to address this.

The benefits of measurement and verification are manifold:

Better Performing Buildings: Constant feedback and analysis allow for improvements and ensure that buildings meet and exceed performance expectations.

ROI Assurance: For any performance enhancements made, measurement assures that these investments are justified.

Encouragement of Better Engineering and Commissioning: Verification processes can serve as quality assurance protocols, pushing engineers and contractors towards best practices.

Accurate Emission and Resource Records: It allows for a more accurate assessment of emission reductions and resource conservation, which is critical in today’s climate-sensitive world.

Public Policy Tool: Measurement and verification can inform and even become tools for public policy, advocating better building practices at a regulatory level.

The Future of MURB Design in Canada

Urbanization and the rising need for MURBs provide an opportunity to redefine what quality housing means in the 21st century. It also poses challenges that can be surmounted through systematic design and performance evaluation. As Canada navigates through this new era, we hope this brief overview serves as a catalyst for ensuring that future multi-unit residential buildings are sustainable, livable, and contribute positively to both individual well-being and broader societal goals.



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