Benny Farm

Project Data

Location : Benny Farm Complex, NDG, Montreal
Clients : OBNL Chez Soi, OBNL Les Maisons Transitionnelles, Coopérative d’habitation Z.O.O. (Zone Of Opportunity), Benny Farm non-profit housing cooperative
Mechanical engineer : Martin Roy & associés
Structural engineer : Nicolet Chartrand Knoll, Jan Vrana, ing.
General contractor : Consortium M.R.
Certification : CBIP certification in progress. Novoclimat certification in progress. LEED certification in progress. Chez-soi is designed to attain a LEED GOLD rating.

Benny Farm is about a community in action – a transformational neighborhood project that created services for and by the community. Winner of North American and Global HOLCIM Foundation for Sustainable Construction awards in 2005 and 2006, our Benny Farm projects combine low-tech strategy with some high-tech solutions, as well as combining building rehabilitation with new construction. Their core innovation is the unique integration of community process, sustainable building systems, and co-ownership in the affordable housing sector. At the Benny Farm, our role was as much social activist as architect. Experimenting with community environmental infrastructure and long-term financial viability, we helped create a community-owned environmental services company (ESCO). The lessons learned from the Benny Farm have driven our strategy for our subsequent work, including the Rosemont, Bois Ellen and Bâtiment 7 projects.


The Core Innovation

The integration of community process, sustainable building systems and co-ownership was achieved through Green Energy Benny Farm (GEBF), a prototype for community-driven sustainable housing. It puts forward a model for the stewardship of a social, ethical, technical and financial ecology – the GEBF infrastructure. It is the first multi-stakeholder partnership in the affordable housing sector where long term sustainability issues are front and center. The project provides a protocol for construction that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, potable water use and waste water, as well as the reduction of solid waste through retrofitting, reuse and waste diversion. The project integrates a series of systems, existing and new, both between and within all buildings involved.

A non-profit, community-run utility company oversees the ownership, management and continual re-investment in sustainable construction for this common energy, water and waste strategy. Operation and maintenance are controlled by the GEBF board, composed of residents, community representatives and technical experts. The board also determines how the revenue from energy savings is distributed, between residents, management, maintenance, research, expansion, and on-going education and dissemination. Risks are reduced through multiple back-up systems and recorded monitoring.


The Context

This infrastructure was created on the Benny Farm, a post-war housing development for war veterans. The Benny Farm covers 18 acres in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood. In 1992 we issued a large-scale masterplan, which envisioned rehabilitation and densification of the Benny Farm site. It was a masterplan that countered the 100% demolition proposed by the owners at the time.

Our first masterplan envisioned the Benny Farm as a Community Land Trust, advocating renovation and infill – a modification rather than wholesale transformation of the existing condition. This strategy created a harmony with the scale and texture of the surrounding neighborhood. The community land trust was an opportunity to develop a housing project for a diverse demographic that was not characterized by market speculation. After Canada Lands Company (CLC) held a round table discussion with stakeholder groups in 1999, they then hosted a competition in 2002. In collaboration with landscape architects NIP, we prepared an urban strategy that included mixed-use buildings, mixed revenues, renovation, new construction, densification and affordable housing.

The City of Montreal became deeply involved in the redevelopment strategy for Benny Farm, both with respect to zoning changes and the funding of various affordable housing programs on the site. The City eventually prioritized the Benny Farm as a high profile, mixed typology housing redevelopment with approximately five hundred and fifty affordable housing units, a mix of new and renovated. After multiple planning and integrated design exercises, directly with community volunteers and activists, we designed 6 housing projects on the Benny Farm, where 3 contiguous buildings totaling 187 housing units would share an environmental infrastructure via the GEBF. 


Community Engagement and the Integrated Design Process

Developed by grassroots stakeholders and designed to expand in phases, the project brought together many different interest groups beyond the housing organizations (Chez Soi, COOP ZOO and HCNDG) and the Municipal and Provincial Partners. Over the years, groups such as the NDG Community Council Housing committee, the Corporation de développement économique communautaire (CDEC), the board of Green Energy Benny Farm, other local organization,s and the Benny Farm Task Force made up of ten individuals who represented different points of view, worked with us and our consultants, including NIP paysage, Martin Roy, and Vinci participated in an ongoing, multi-stage integrated design process.

The final project was made possible through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Green Municipality Fund, which supports investment in innovative municipal infrastructure projects. Nevertheless, the non-profit GEBF will manage itself autonomously over the long term. 


Environmental Systems and Transferability

Although developed for the affordable housing projects on Benny Farm, this model is designed to be copied. The economic, social and environmental dividends created by reduced energy and water use are balanced between the partners, system maintenance and monitoring, and future re-investment into new technologies and collective amenities. Building and Facility protocols focus on reuse, heightened air quality, durable construction, and energy efficient envelopes. The model of participation between all levels of social organization, grassroots to federal governments, is applicable anywhere.

Most energy comes from renewable sources, so partners are significantly protected from increases in energy costs. Energy systems involve geothermal heat exchange, hybrid glycol/electric solar power, radiant heating, and both air- and water-based heat recovery. Water use is reduced by more than half, so partners are shielded from increases to water taxes or meter rates. Water systems involve grey-water and storm-water reuse, wetland treatment and percolation, and sub-grade water-table recharge. These systems are interconnected, mutually dependent and increase the quality of life for the residents of the Benny Farm.