The Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station (PODS) is creating quite the excitement whether it is about the possibilities for new scientific research and education; tourism and economic opportunities or sustainable building design and innovation. It is all there.

 The project is being proposed by the Ruby Lake Lagoon and Nature Reserve Society (Lagoon Society). The Lagoon Society is well known for many projects on the coast including the Iris Griffith Nature Centre, their Nature School and outreach programs, the annual BioBlitz and the Biodiversity Summit.

"One of the outcomes of the Biodiversity Summit which was attended by over 150 scientists, wildlife and environmental enthusiasts, educators and local representatives, was the recognition of the lack of information about the coastal waters," reported Dr. Michael Jackson, executive director of the Lagoon Society. More monitoring and research of the local region was needed.

So the idea of PODS was born. A place where long-term monitoring and research studies will document the marine and freshwater biodiversity and natural resources of the region. PODS will include a living display of the habitats of coastal waters, state-of-the-art marine labs, conference and meeting facilities for 200 and indoor and outdoor interactive classrooms for students of all ages. A dive school in honour of former director and teacher Jim Rossi will be located at the station. There will also be a dock for boating visitors and a store and cafe.

All of this will be located in sustainably designed buildings. At a recent open house for the community of Pender Harbour, architects and engineers involved explained their design innovations.

 When looking at the conceptual drawings for the main building the eye is drawn to the striking PODS design. Three buildings will jut up from the ground in a boat's bow shape. Architect Jeremiah Deutscher of Deutscher Architecture Studio explained his innovative concept and design for PODS. Deutscher wanted to design something that would reflect the boat building history of the Pender Harbour area. He hopes the iconic forms will gain attention for the most efficient buildings on the coast.pods2

But these buildings are not only unique in looks. They are also unique in sustainable design. Cross laminated timbers (CLT) will be the major component of the buildings. These consist of laminated 2x4 lumber which has the strength of concrete. This material was chosen because there is less waste than using conventional building materials including utilizing smaller trees and a lower grade of wood and also because of the speed of building.

The structure will be built in 5 ft. x 10 ft. panels of CLT, plywood and insulation and then barged to the site. Deutscher is working to get all the materials from within 100 miles of the site. Prefabrication means Less waste, less trucking of materials and disruption of the road to the building site.

Materials are being carefully considered including cedar siding, slate tiles and local concrete, aluminum, glass and steel with a high recycle content and even a vegitated roof. Deutscher brought a sample of "mushroom mycelia insulation" that is being considered. Mycelia is permitted to grow to a certain stage, then stopped and sealed in the wall panels.

The Associated Engineering team, Mark Porter, Melisssa Heinrick, Tom Robinson and Francois Atkinson, explained their employee owned company's philosophy including considering climate change in every one of their projects, being carbon neutral, practicing waste diversion and using non-toxic products and being involved in the community.

The team looked at geotechnical, environmental, transportation and waste water considerations. Since the building site has bedrock close to the surface, the material excavated can be reused with stability and settlement expected to be good. Environmentally, there are no species or fresh water sources at risk and should be manageable with best practices.

In consideration of the wildlife and habitat, there will be no clearing of the property during bird nesting season; invasive species will be removed and habitat will be enhanced. Since the road into the area needs attention, a proposed alternative plan for moving visitors would be to use a water shuttle. Visitors could park in Madeira Park and water taxi across to the PODS site. This trip could be included in the admittance fee and would be a great family experience. There will also be a shuttle with an electric Wood Duck Bus.

Since there is no access to a waste water treatment plant, the plan includes minimizing or eliminating off-site conveyence of waste. Possible options include: membranes for holding waste, source separation, composting, grey water re-use and rainwater collection.

Addressing the design sustainability issues was Martina Soderlund of reLoad Sustainable Design. "Since buildings in North America are responsible for one-third of energy produced, it is important to use a whole systems approach to understand the interactions," Soderlund stated. "In designing a structure you should look at how you can reduce the need for energy in the first place, use that energy more efficiently and make it renewable."

PODS uses this whole system approach with biophilic design using natural systems, efficient design achieving net zero carbon, conserving water to help achieve a net zero water cycle and carefully choosing building materials and maximizing waste diversion. Biophilic design recognizes the human need to connect with nature.

2017 04 06 PODS Systems Diagram web

In addition to solar panels to create energy, a water geo-thermal system is being considered. The grey-water will be used to water the grounds and also to flush the toilets. A toilet that separates solids and urine was also discussed.

Soderlund said she was thrilled to be working with the Lagoon Society on PODS. "So many times we have to talk our clients into these innovations, but the Society is asking us to bring them as many ideas and new design possibilities as we can."

An overview of the landscape design possibilities was given by Happa Collaborative. Their approach would be to use as many native plants as possible and to create "learning lagoons" or outdoor classroom spaces. They hope to create a sense of wonder as people enter the site.

Plantings will be divided into the natural regions of the property. At the higher elevation there would be vine maple, douglas fir and ferns while the central slope would be planted in blackberry, crab apple, arbutus, yarrow, Nookta rose and sour cherry. Along the shoreline stonecrop, salt grass, kinnikinnick, shore pine, nodding onion and trefoil are possibilities.

The research facilities and a large conference space will be at the top of the property. Every building will overlook the beautiful bay and the ocean waters that the Lagoon Society and PODS will monitor and help to protect for future generations.