Stephen Montgomery’s fascination with buildings and the ways they are conceived, built and operated has only grown over his 23 years in construction. Starting out as a mechanical engineer and system designer, he familiarized himself with the traditional complexities of fitting tailored systems into modern buildings.
These complexities have been built on to include advanced network controls, high-performance equipment and innovative technology. The sophistication of modern building design – driven by envelope integrity, system efficiency, carbon targets and the integrated systems that validate them – has grown exponentially. Construction methods and technologies, and the quantity and quality of data we can now collect to evaluate building performance, have also advanced exponentially.
“Our industry is attempting to do with buildings what Apple did with the iPhone; combine multiple seamless functions to a single complex yet manageable product,” he says. “We are combining a massive number of innovations into one product and the complexity just keeps multiplying. That’s the excitement in our industry right now – getting our clients into high-performing, complex facilities that are enjoyable to own and operate.”
Stephen recently joined the Canada Green Building Council’s Zero Carbon Steering Committee. It is guiding Canada’s flagship approach for deep carbon reductions in the real estate sector, the Zero Carbon Building Program, which has been evolving since 2017. He brings an integrated builder’s perspective to discussions about projects seeking certification and about the future iterations of green-building standards. “It is an exciting opportunity to gain insight into where the typical stumbling blocks are on the road to net zero and to learn from other industry perspectives,” he says.
Sharing PCL’s purpose of building a better future, together, Stephen is motivated by his young family and their future in the face of escalating climate change impacts. For Canada to meet its net zero targets, new buildings will need to be energy efficient out of the gate, and hundreds of millions of square meters of existing space will need to be upgraded, retrofitted and decarbonized. “A well-built building provides so many advantages for the environment, people’s health and the community,” he says. “There’s a great opportunity to improve the way we build cities across the globe, and I believe it’s not too late for our industry to contribute significantly to a sustainable future for us all.”
Proper management of complexity is crucial if buildings are to be built to specifications, perform as they are intended and generate the returns owners expect. This is particularly important when energy and carbon certifications are contingent on reported performance.
In this environment, it is imperative that the team – owners, consultants, builders and trades – take a collaborative and integrated approach that considers the life of the building (design, construction, operation and renewal). Part of Stephen’s role is to make sure this collaboration starts at the outset of project planning, to expose the design, construction and operation phases of the building to the collective planning power of the assembled team.
“Integration is about ensuring the proper subject matter experts are engaged and consulted early enough to effectively optimize design, whether for new builds or comprehensive decarbonization and retrofit projects,” he says. Integration is also focused on closing the gaps between where designers typically finish and tradespeople begin, and between where tradespeople typically finish and owner’s forces begin.
“It’s so important to recognize and address challenges while the plans are still on the design table rather than when it is under construction so you can put accurate budgets and schedules to jobs,” Stephen says. “PCL has always understood complexity and we’ve always put the right people in the right place to deal with it,” he says. “PCL excels at helping clients lean their approaches, optimize their designs and – ultimately – enjoy dollars back to their bottom line through efficient project delivery and improved building performance.”
Over the years, Stephen has focused his systems expertise in the areas of sustainability and decarbonization, whether for a new build or a retrofit. He says that means focusing on a building’s operation and maintenance, not just its construction. That is where the real opportunities for energy and cost savings can be found. “The testing and commissioning phase is more crucial now than ever,” Stephen says. “We turn over complex solutions to our client’s operation and reporting needs. Their facilities managers, technicians, and support teams need to understand what the building is telling them and how to act on that to ensure optimized net zero performance.”
Stephen was brought in as a subject matter expert for the groundbreaking Ken Soble residential tower retrofit project. The complexities of a Passive House retrofit were worked into the schedule, budget and execution plans early on, laying the groundwork for a complex but smooth project execution that yielded a 94% reduction in GHG emissions.