Connecting People and Transit in New Ways

Written by Karen Hawthorne

Have you been to the New Central Library in Calgary, Alberta yet? Time has named it one of 2019’s Greatest Places to visit – and it’s no wonder.

The downtown complex is 278,000 square feet of spectacular architecture and public spaces, with a reflective hexagonal exterior and arching entranceway, four floors of experiential learning – including a digital Story Studio where you can author your own multimedia tale – and 450,000 new books and collections.

Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station, was part of the opening week festivities in November 2018.

The engineering firm behind this unique and exceptional community hub is Entuitive, a growing company that has made a name for itself as a leader in engineering performance. Entuitive’s work is not only about construction and restoration but taking a holistic approach to optimize how well buildings perform in the communities they serve. “We’re always thinking creatively and collaboratively with every project. It’s about unlocking the potential of buildings,” says Brock Schroeder, Managing Director of Entuitive.

Calgary’s New Central Library is just one – albeit a now-famous one – of the firm’s projects that speaks to a commitment to innovation with new high-tech methods and materials, and the global focus on building vertically around transit. “The transit piece is also key to our business,” says Sean Smith, Principal of Entuitive.

“Cities are looking for transit-oriented development,” he says. “With urban density, buildable land is much harder to find, so we’re helping to unlock developer space. That’s where it gets interesting with the integration of transportation and city block development for living and commercial spaces.” For example, when building adjacent to railway tracks and platforms to maximize space for new structures, rail safety and crash wall protection become critical design aspects. There is also the need to design to reduce the vibration you feel from the trains as they pass by or pull into the station as this can generate vibration into the surrounding buildings.

Entuitive, which started in 2011 in Toronto (and in Calgary soon after) with a small group of experienced engineers who were former colleagues, has made transit a top specialty. The emphasis is on helping clients combine infrastructure development with real estate.

It all starts with understanding the local communities around transit stations, Smith says, and engaging with the community and local decision-makers to develop a shared vision. Case in point, the new Calgary library had to be built over the city’s busiest light rail train line with minimal disruption to train operations. The team worked closely with architecture firms Snøhetta and DIALOG, as well as the client group – the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, Calgary Public Library and the City of Calgary.

“The City’s belief in the project and what we were doing was so positive,” Schroeder says of the plans to build over the active railway line and engineer the support needed for such heavy loads. “It was great to be part of such an important building for the community with this beautiful architecture.”

Structural steel played an important role in executing the design, which is not surprising given the loads and spans of the library. In fact, the columns of the four-storey building support the weight of a building five times its height. “So it’s equivalent to a 35-storey commercial tower,” Schroeder says.

Entuitive developed a first in Calgary’s history for the build – a concrete encapsulation that actually clear-spans about 12 metres across the Calgary Transit South East corridor light rail tracks, just north of the exiting CP Rail tunnel.

The company drew upon its past experience leading the award-winning structural engineering for the Manhattan West Platform project in 2015 that spanned the railroad tracks that go in and out of New York’s Penn Station (without service interruption!). The team used pre-cast bridge technology, another specialty, to build a 240-foot span platform for the new public plaza that connected two parcels of land that were previously difficult to develop and unlocked the potential for office and residential towers at the site.

Now, Entuitive is working as the lead team on the $823-million remodelling of Toronto’s 92-year-old Union Station, with a focus to expand platforms and improve the movement of people to manage increasing numbers of people that ride the trains and subways. The project also involves a significant amount of restoration of the iconic train station.

“This is a huge and ongoing project,” Smith says. “We’re looking at ways to make the station more efficient and multifunctional, and allow more frequent trains.”

He credits the ingenuity, team mindset and willingness to go the extra mile as standouts for the company, which now has 270 employees and additional offices in New York and London – and clients in various sectors across North America and beyond. Certainly, the portfolio speaks for itself. The company has developed commercial and residential towers and spaces for university labs, sports and recreation centers, healthcare and cultural events, like the incredible Pianodrome, a temporary art and performance installation erected for 28 days at the Royal Botanic Gardens for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The cool factor doesn’t stop there. “Entuitive likes to explore new technologies and innovations,” says Smith. Case in point, Entuitive was a finalist in the four-year NASA competition to design a habitat on Mars for humans using 3D printing technology to create the structure.

This is a company poised for next-generation possibilities, and Schroeder says it comes down to great people working together. “We’ve really developed a one-company culture that gives people the opportunity to bring their ideas forward,” he says. “We don’t have barriers or a star mentality; we’re a team-focused organization.” And that team is multidisciplinary, offering everything from the basics of structural engineering for a new build or restoration project, to fire engineering for safety and durability, to advanced performance analysis to calculate a structure’s energy use and sustainability.

The company also looks to the future with new techniques in mass timber for multiuse towers and building envelope construction – along with some spectacular, history-making projects now underway, like the iconic Massey Hall in Toronto.

“Massey Hall is an 1880 historic building with a tonne of music history. We want to modernize the amenities and show its heritage value,” Smith says. This project is slated for completion in fall of 2020.

Plans underway include connecting each of the balconies with an exterior walkway and an extended bar area and washroom facilities for patrons at each level. Entuitive is also adding a rear loading dock (so crews and musicians won’t be bringing their guitars in the front door anymore!) and working to revitalize the building and reinforcing the roof over the stage to increase the range of shows that can be supported in the hall.

“It’s pretty ambitious and it’s great to be a part of the vision to make this happen for Toronto,” Smith says. “The best projects are the hard ones.”



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