Engineering Better Conferences

How conferences can provide more value to Engineers

Conferences provide a forum for industry experts to come together to discuss ideas and share progress. The traditional format of Engineering conferences resemble a series of lectures: speakers first present their work, after which the audience is allowed some time for questions. If the presentation runs too long, it comes out of the question period. This limits the academic potential of conferences, as Engineers are forced to sit and listen, while providing limited ideas or input.

Often, conferences are attended by the same people each year, and have evolved into a forum for embellishing accomplishments. Attendees are not likely to recall the size of the prefabricated element that was erected, nor is this information necessarily useful to them. However, if everyone at the conference engages in conversation about the innovative technique that was used to erect the panels, and how it could be improved, then attendees can gain value from the conference.

Question period at the CSCE SMSB 2018 Conference in Quebec.

In addition, more workshop type sessions should be developed to nurture curiosity and teamwork, in order to inspire one another. These workshops should first introduce the major theme, such as the use of high-performance concrete. Following this, Engineers should be given a problem that must be solved based on the theme of the workshop. Working through and discussing these problems will not only foster creativity in Engineers, but highlight new opportunities or tools that Engineers can use in their own practice.

Change needs to start at the conference organizational level. Organizers need to put less emphasis on big dinners, expensive evening events and venues. This in turn will reduce the cost of attending the conference, allowing more engineers from a broader range of backgrounds to attend. In addition, reducing the number of speakers will provide more time per session for open discussion. Each session should have some main topics of conversation, that are supplemented by specific projects from the chosen speakers. No rehearsed speeches, and no wordy PowerPoint slides. If conferences are able to foster good discussions, they can provide real value to attendees. This will then motivate more Engineers to attend, building a stronger and more knowledgeable community.

Have any thoughts on how conferences can be improved to provide more value for attendees? Please feel free to provide input in the comment section below!

The Great White “Vanilla” North

On October 27, the well known street artist Banksy posted a short piece on his blog describing the new One World Trade Centre building as “Vanilla”. Banksy claims that the new tower is a betrayal to those that lost their lives on September 11. The backlash was swift as numerous news outlets, including the BBC and the NY Daily News, have criticized the article. One of the comments Banksy makes is that the new tower is “something they would build in Canada”. But does this statement have any merit? Is Canada’s architecture something to mock?

Oh Canada

Having claimed the title of the worlds tallest tower for 34 years, the CN Tower has garnered both praise and criticism. On the one hand, it attracts millions of tourists each year, and is one of the top attractions in the country. On the other hand, critics have often identified the tower as an eyesore. Colin Vaughan, an architect and political specialist for CityTV from 1977 to his passing in 2000, claimed:

“The first disappointment comes at the main entrance. There’s no sensation of arriving at the base of a tall structure to be overwhelmed by the vision of the tower ahead… But none will experience the unique sensation, the vertigo and the straight excitement which should accompany a visit to a structure of this scale” (TorontoIST).

Toronto’s CN Tower. Photo Credit: CBC

This aside, the CN Tower is one of the American Civil Engineering Societies Seven Wonders of the World and is second place in the world federation of towers (CN Tower). There can be no doubt, this icon is a masterpiece that has put Canada on the map.

Award Winning Architecture

According to the official website, the Emporis Skyscraper Award is the world’s most renowned prize for high-rise architecture and has been awarded on an international basis every year since 2000. In 2012, the Emporis Skyscraper Award was given to the Absolute World Towers (also known as the Marilyn Manroe Towers) in Mississauga, Ontario (Emporis).

The Bow building in Calgary, Alberta is the tallest office building in Canada outside of Toronto.  In 2012, it finished fourth in the Emporis Skyscrapper Award and was also ranked in the top ten architectural projects of 2012 by Azure Magazine (Azure).

Bridges Eh?

Canada is also home to some truly spectacular bridges. The Peace Bridge in Calgary, Alberta was ranked in the top ten architectural projects of 2012 by Azure Magazine. In addition, CCN composed a list of the top 24 most spectacular bridges in the world, and both the New Brunswick Hartland Bridge and Confederation Bridge in Prince Edward Island were among them (CNN)

Producing World-Renowned Architects

Canadians can also be proud of the fact that many esteemed architects around the world are Canadian. Frank Gehry was born in Toronto and was revered by Vanity Fare as the most important architect of our age (Vanity Fair). Gehry has designed iconic buildings around the globe, including the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Back in Canada, he designed the new addition to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has been given outstanding reviews by architects around the globe (NY Times).

The Renovated Art Gallery of Ontario. Photo Credit: Jamie Sarner

Final Thought

As Canadians, we all agree that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I will not say that Banksy should take back what he said, nor will I attack him as an artist for having an opinion. However, this article has provided you with enough information to allow you to formulate your own opinion regarding the amount of “vanilla” architecture in Canada. There is much to be proud of as Canadians, and I believe that the quality of architecture in Canada is something that speaks for itself.

For an indepth look at various other Canadian masterpieces, see the recent article by The Glove and Mail.

Christchurch’s New Shipping Container Mall

On September 4, 2010 a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck New Zealand’s third most populous urban area, Christchurch. Despite the damaged infrastructure, no casualties were reported.

On February 22, 2011, nearly six months after the first earthquake, Christchurch was struck with a magnitude 6.3  earthquake. The epicentre was located close to the city centre and at a depth of just 5 km (3 mi). The shallow depth and previously weakened infrastructure lead to the collapse of many major buildings within the city and the death of 182 people (NZ Police).

The six storey Canterbury Television (CTV) building, which was declared structurally safe after the 2010 earthquake, collapsed and killed 115 people. A report released by New Zealand’s Department of Building and Housing after the collapse claimed that the structure, built in 1986, was not up to either previous or current standards (New Zealand Ministry).

Cantebury Television Building After the 2011 Earthquake. Photo Credit:

The aftermath of these two earthquakes brought the city to a halt, and a ‘Red Zone’ perimeter was established to keep people away from the damaged infrastructure. However, the city of Christchurch has since made huge progress in bringing life back into the city centre. As part of re-building the city, architects and engineers have used the blank canvas to develop new, cutting edge building techniques.

In my previous post entitled “Cardboard: An Alternative Construction Material“, I profiled the new cathedral that was constructed out of cardboard. In addition, a new shopping complex has been constructed in the city centre using recycled shipping containers. The project, which was completed in just eight weeks, has help bring life back into the city. The construction and opening of the shopping complex are presented in the following documentary.

The Future of Skyscrapers in Western Europe

Countries in both North America and Asia have seen a recent influx of new skyscrapers. Europe on the other hand, has fallen behind in this respect. The Burj Khalifa, in UAE, is almost two and a half times taller than the tallest skyscraper in Europe, Moscow’s Mercury Tower.

A number of European cities have traditionally limited the construction of skyscrapers to areas outside the downtown core. Examples of this include Canary Wharf in London, as well as La Defence in Paris (Forbes). However, cities that were heavily bombed during WWII have adopted a more centralized model; Frankfurt is home to over thirty buildings that are above 100m (329 ft) tall, most of which are located in the downtown core.

Frankfurt Skyline. Photo Credit: WSD Blog

London Tower Reaches New Heights

London has recently undergone a transformation, with a number of tall towers being built in the downtown core. The tallest tower, known as The Shard, completed construction in 2012. This 72 storey, 306m (1004 ft) tall building plays host to the tallest observation deck in Europe. The Shard is currently the tallest building in Western Europe, and the second tallest in the entire continent (The Shard).

The Shard in London Adjacent to Tower Bridge. Photo credit: Safe and Stand

The vision for the tower was to blend the new with the old, and avoid overshadowing the cities iconic landmarks. It can be argued from the above photo that this has been achieved.

Paris’ New Look

The recently built tower in London will not boast the record of Western Europe’s tallest skyscraper for much longer. Developers in Paris recently attained approval for the construction of two 320m (1050 ft) tall twin towers. The two towers will be located in the La Defence district, with a project construction cost of $4 billion. In an effort to preserve the historical significance of Paris however, these buildings will fall short of the Eiffel Tower which stands at a height of 324m (1063 ft) (Bloomberg). The buildings are scheduled for completion in early 2019 (European Estate).

Proposed Twin Towers in Paris’ La Defence Region. Photo Credit: European Estate

These skyscrapers are the first example of multi-use towers in Paris. They will play host to luxury apartments, offices and a five star hotel. This model has been adopted in cities such as Dubai, and has proven to be quite successful. However, many people believe that investors will be wary of this development. A recent study projected that office use in Paris will drop by twenty percent this year (Bloomberg). The building developer, Heritage Group, believes that these towers will create a new market within Paris. Alexander Kraft, chairman of Sotheby’s International Reality for France & Monaco, stated “This complex will offer services that are just not available on the Paris market at the moment. Owners of property would have access to a wide array of hotel services such as maid service, room service, etc. If it works, it can initiate the creation of a new market” (European Estate).

The Reality

There is an active debate regarding the development of tall towers within historic European cities. Historians argue that the large structures will overshadow the small, historically significant regions of the city. On the other hand, many believe that these towers will not only modernize European city skylines, but will provide a new perspective (and better view) of all the great history that the city has to offer.

It is important that cities proceed with caution in this respect. Although I support the construction of new skyscrapers, care should be taken to ensure that they are integrated with the existing infrastructure. Examples such as The Shard in London prove that this is possible. With the continuing success in these endeavours, more skyscrapers will be approved for construction, giving Europe a strong foothold in the race for the tallest and most spectacular skyscraper.

Tower Infinity: The Invisible Skyscraper

The continuing battle for skyscraper supremacy has reached new heights with the completion of Shangai Tower in China. At 632m (2073 ft), it is the second tallest building in the world, just short of the 830m (2723 ft) tall Burj Khalifa (CBC News)

Designers in South Korea however have taken a different approach: instead of focusing on the height of the structure, why not showcase the technological capabilities of the nation. The result is the world’s first ‘invisible’ skyscraper.

Tower Infinity will be constructed in Seoul, South Korea to a height of 450m (1476 ft), making it one of the tallest buildings in the world and the sixth highest tower. The construction was recently approved by the government, but a date has not yet been set for this ambitious project (CNN). The design of the tower was completed by GDS architects, and will feature the third tallest observation deck in the world, a theatre, a roller coaster, various restaurants, and a water park (Inhabitat).

Located near the Incheon International Airport, Tower Infinity is set to become the new face of Seoul. According to GDS architects, “Instead of symbolizing prominence as another of the world’s ‘tallest and best’ towers, it sets itself apart by celebrating the global community rather than focusing on itself. The tower subtly demonstrates Korea’s rising position in the world by establishing its most powerful presence through diminishing its presence.” (GDS)

The structure itself will consist of a series of blending shapes ranging from diamonds to triangles (Good Times). However, what sets the proposed tower apart is the ‘smart’ facade which will render the building invisible to pedestrians at ground level.

How the Magic Works

Cameras will be installed at three different heights and on six different sides of the tower. These cameras will record the building’s surroundings in real-time. These recordings will then be streamed to the 500 rows of LED screens built into the facade of the tower, each edited to seamlessly connect with one another.

By projecting real-time images from the back of the building onto the front, it will create the illusion that the building is in fact, invisible. In addition, the level of transparency can be varied, depending on the desired effect (CNN).

Varying Levels of Transparency for the Proposed Tower Infinity. Photo Credit: CNN

However, this concept could be used for a number of different applications. For one, the TV screens could be used as billboards, creating the worlds tallest advertisement. In addition, the screens could be used to broadcast real-time world events. The possibilities seem endless.

Similar Projects Around the World

The concept of an invisible skyscraper may seem to be novel, but similar projects have been attempted around the world. In Sweden, the Mirrorcube hotel uses a mirrored facade to render itself invisible to all those walking through the forest setting.

Mirrorcube Hotel in Sweden. Photo Credit: Telegraph

The hotel room measures 4 meters in each direction. The room includes a large bed, bathroom, lounge, and rooftop terrace. The mirrored facade allows the structure to co-exist seamlessly with the surrounding environment: an effect that the Tower Infinity is looking to replicate. In addition, a special mesh that is only visible to birds has been installed to protect the wildlife in the area (Telegraph).

The Next Big Project

Countries all across the globe are currently vying for infrastructure supremacy. This has lead to investments of billions of dollars in developing higher, more technologically advanced structures. This trend will increase exponentially as the global economy emerges from the current recession. As a result, the next decade could produce truly spectacular structures.

For more photos of the Infinity Tower, see the Structural Digest Gallery.

One World Trade Center: Rebuilding From the Ashes

There is no doubt that the attacks that occurred throughout the United States on September 11, 2001 (twelve years today) changed the course of history. The Twin Towers, located in New York City, collapsed two hours after the first plane hit the north tower. The death toll for these attacks totalled over 3000 (History Channel).

To pay tribute to the victims, plans were made to construct a memorial complex on the site of the old Trade Centers. This complex features five new skyscrappers, a 9/11 memorial and museum, a World Trade Center transportation hub, retail space, and a performing arts centre (World Trade Center). The extensive plans have involved some of the most famous architects, artists and urban developers of our time, including: Santiago Calatrava, David Cholds, Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Fumihiko Maki and Richard Rogers (World Trade Center).

The memorial features two 16-acre reflecting pools which are set in the original footprints of the two towers. The largest man-made waterfalls in North America are located in the centre of these pools, and the names of the victims are written around the pool’s edges.

Photo of the World Trade Center Memorial Taken During My Recent Visit to New York

For Every Action, There is an Equal Larger and Opposite Reaction

In addition to the memorial, plans were made to build five new skyscrapers. One World Trade Center, sometimes incorrectly referred to as Freedom Tower (Wall Street Journal), will be the tallest building in the western hemisphere, and the fourth tallest building in the world upon completion. The roof top has a height of 1368 ft (417m), identical to the height of the original North Tower. However, the steel spire situated at the top of the building bring the total height to 1776 ft (541 m). This acts as a symbolic reference to the date that the United States signed the Declaration of Independence, separating the colony from the British Empire.

The structure is composed of a concrete core surrounded by a steel structure. As a result, the tower acts like a ‘building within a building’, attaining a level of safety which far surpasses the current requirements in building codes. Steve Plate, the director of World Trade Center construction for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, stated, “The core walls aren’t sheetrock like the original towers, they’re more than 6 feet of concrete in places. We’re rewriting the book on security for office towers.” In addition to this, the podium at the base of the building consist of a 187 ft tall by 200 ft wide concrete slab, increasing the towers safety. (Popular Mechanics).

Once completed, this building will play host to 69 office floors, two television broadcasting floors, two restaurants, an observation deck, and a glass-metal parapet (World Trade Center). The construction of the tower, which began in 2006, is expected to be completed in early 2014.

Current Progress of Freedom Tower Construction. Taken on my Recent Visit to New York City.
Current Progress of On World Trade Center Construction, Taken on my Recent Visit to New York City.

Green Reaches New Heights

One of the most important features of the new landmark is the achievement of a LEED Gold certification. This has been attained through the use of various green technologies. The 57th floor will play host to two 25,000 gallon (94,600 L) rainwater collection tanks, which will be used for the buildings operational needs. In addition, the toilets are shaped in a way to increase the velocity of the water flushing, reducing the amount of water per flush.  According to Steven Plate, It not just helps the environment. It also saves a lot of operational costs.” (MSNBC News)

Some other ‘green’ features include: the use of recycled debris and materials during construction, an increase in the use of natural light, and an LED backlight system for the podium which is both cost-effective and creates less heat energy,

However, the ‘green’ emphasis has lead to construction costs of almost $4 billion (US), making it the most expensive office tower ever built (Wall Street Journal). Despite this, the significantly lowered operating costs and energy usage make the project economical from a life cycle perspective. For more information about the LEED program, see my previous post entitled “LEED-ing the Way to a Better Future“.


Before the final steel beam was lifted into place for One World Trade Center, President Barrack Obama inscribed, “We remember. We Rebuild. We come back stronger.” (Telegraph) The symbolism behind this is quite strong, and personify’s the project as more than just a building; it represents the resiliency of the American people, and acts as a tribute to those that lost their lives in the horrific attacks.

It is important that people do not forget the past. History can teach us important lessons about the future, and can be one of the most important tools in making the world a better place. This tower stands as a testament, not only to those who lost their lives, but to the thousands of men and women who have worked on building from the ashes. The lessons learned from the collapsed towers are studied all across the globe, and have helped develop new techniques for creating stronger, more resilient structures. It is believed that this will create a new standard for high rise construction, ensuring that the events of September 11 will never again occur.

To see additional construction photos, visit the Structural Digest Gallery.

LEED-ing the Way To a Better Future

In the past few decades, the terms ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ have emerged as buzz words used to market new products and ideas. Their grasp has not evaded the building industry, as more and more projects are now using ‘sustainable’ construction practices. However, in order to build sustainably, one must be able to define it. In 1987, the United Nations defined sustainability as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations)

In 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program to act as a third party recognition for green buildings. By using a pre-set rating system, buildings can earn points which allow for different levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum). It has been proven that the use of the LEED system can lead to lower operating costs, increased asset value, reduction in energy/resource use, and healthier/safer environment for occupants (USGBC). In addition, meeting LEED standards allows buildings to apply for money-savings incentives and tax rebates.

In the United States alone, USGBC estimates that more than 4.3 million people live and work in LEED certified buildings. It is also estimated that 44% of all commercial and institutional construction in America is “green”, the majority of these associated with the LEED program. USGBC estimates that this percentage will surpass 55% as early as 2016 (USGBC Report).

International Implementation

Due to it’s success, the LEED certification program is now being implemented throughout the world. Taipei 101, located in Taiwan, is one of the tallest buildings in the world and boasts a LEED Platinum certification.

One of the key features of Taipei 101’s environmentally friendly setup is a 30% decrease in potable water usage (compared to average building consumption), saving about 28,000,000 litres of potable water annually (USGBC Taipei 101 Summary).

Canada’s Response

In 2002, Canada developed the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC). The CaGBC acts similarly to the USGBC, providing resources to projects aiming for LEED certification, as well as training LEED accredited professionals.

This has lead to an increasing number of LEED certified buildings throughout the country. A building located in Waterloo Ontario was one of the first student residences to achieve LEED Platinum accreditation. Despite costing the developer 10% more to build than traditional construction, this building boats low energy consumption and very low maintenance costs (The Record). In addition, the Waterloo region has a number of other developments looking to achieve similar LEED credentials. This is a promising sign for Canada’s version of ‘Silicon Valley’.

In Vancouver, a construction permit has been submitted for what will be one of Canada’s tallest office towers with LEED Platinum certification. Construction of the $200 million building will begin in October, and is expected to be completed in 2017 (CBC Report).

Proposed ‘Green’ Offic Tower in Vancouver. Photo Credit: Buzz Buzz Home

The new tower will use half the energy of traditional office buildings that are similar in size, greatly reducing the operating costs for tenants. This marks the beginning of what many hope will be the ‘green revolution’ in Vancouver. Herbert Meier, director of real estate asset management for the project stated, “We believe in Vancouver’s economy and its future…We believe in supporting the City of Vancouver’s vision to become the world’s ‘greenest’ city by 2020.” (CBC Report)

It is apparent that the current standards for construction are inadequate. As a result, the industry must continue to embrace the ‘green’ movement by implementing new techniques. It is encouraging however that as the industry begins to incorporate the principles set forth by LEED, cities will begin to finally take action on the growing issue of climate change.

Cardboard: An Alternative Construction Material

Cardboard, first invented in 1817, is generally used as a packaging material (A History of Packaging). In 2001, the Department of Trade and Industry (based out of the UK) began looking into the viability of using corrugated cardboard as a building material. The research identified several important traits: cardboard can be easily recycled, has low impact on the environment, is easy to manufacture, has good insulating properties, and can have an attractive texture. Finally, it’s inexpensive, making it an appealing option for temporary construction (Buro Happold).

As a result of these findings, new projects have emerged throughout the world. An addition to Westborough Primary School (UK) was made using only cardboard materials while aiming for zero carbon emissions. The building was constructed in 2002 and serves as an after school club, a kitchenette, a storeroom and a toilet block. After a decade, the structure is reported to be in great condition (The Guardian). The success of this project acts as a proof of concept for the growing cardboard construction industry.

New Westborough Primary School Building. Photo Credit: The Guardian

In addition, an Australian company has recently developed a new product called Ceramiboard. Ceramiboard is composed of traditional cardboard with a special coating. This coating improves the cardboard’s fire-rating and strength, allowing it to be used for fire rated wall assemblies, ducts, strong cardboard boxes and general purpose wall panels. A 14mm thick, three layered wall assembly using Ceramiboard has a compressive strength of 0.45 MPa (65 psi) and a flexural strength of 4-8 MPa (580 – 1160 psi) (Ceramiboard).

The Cardboard Revolution

World renowned architect Shigeru Banu is an adamant supporter of cardboard as a building material. In 2012, he designed a cardboard pavilion in Moscow’s Gorky Park using specially treated cardboard columns. This special treatment provides the structure with a surprisingly long life span (Disegno Daily).

Cardboard Pavilion. Photo Credit: Architizer

Ban has also recently finished a new cardboard cathedral in New Zealand. The original Christchurch cathedral was destroyed during the February 2011 earthquake which claimed the lives of 185 people. A new cathedral was needed, but would take a considerable amount of time to construct. Ban proposed that a temporary cathedral be built using cardboard as it is economical, easy to construct, and eco-friendly.

Christchurch’s New Cardboard Cathedral. Photo Credit: Daily Mail

The cathedral’s platform is made up of shipping containers which provide extra rooms, storage and side chapels. The A-frame roof structure tapers towards the front and is composed of 98 interlocking cardboard tubes which weigh 120 kg each (BBC News). A polycarbonate roof covers these tubes, protecting them from moisture (Make Wealth History).

The total cost of the cathedral is $3.3 million, and the structure has an estimated life-span of 30 years (Daily Mail). However, Ban argues that this could easily be increased to 50 or more if the building is well maintained. The maintenance of such a structure is quite simple when compared to traditional construction, and is one of the most economical features of the new cathedral.

As the cardboard construction industry grows, the product will be refined. This technology has the potential of mass producing affordable buildings for both temporary and permanent use, and will be important in future disaster zones. However, further testing needs to be done to determine the feasibility of these structures in the long term.

Toronto’s Union Station Revitalization

During the 19th century, rail companies used separate stations located throughout the City of Toronto. However in April 1904, a great fire destroyed much of the existing infrastructure. The rail companies, devastated by the fire, proposed the construction of a single train station that would serve all train companies passing through the city. As a result, the construction of Union Station, which began in 1914, was completed in 1927 (City of Toronto).

Union Station in 1927 After It’s Opening. Photo Credit: The Canadian Encyclopaedia

Presently, Union Station serves 250,000 passengers a day (City of Toronto). Services connecting into Union Station include Via Train, Go Train and Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) subways.

However, Union Station was not designed for such high capacity. For one, customers are often left to deal with long delays due to bottlenecking of passengers at platform exits (Metro News Article).  As a result, the city has embarked on an ambitious plan to revitalize the historic station, bringing it into the 21st century.

The Plan

The revitalisation, which began in 2009, has three main objectives: to improve the quality and capacity of pedestrian movement; to restore heritage elements; and to transform Union Station into a major destination for shopping and visiting. Once the revitalisation is complete, the overall gross footage of Union Station will be increased by 14 percent (Globe and Mail).

The proposed project will cost almost a billion dollars to complete. The City of Toronto is contributing $640 million to the project, supplemented with investments of $164 million by the Federal government and $172 million by the Provincial government (Urban Toronto).

Improved Train Platforms

The current train platforms do not allow for natural light, creating a rather depressing environment. The new Train Shed, pictured below, will allow natural light to flow onto the platforms and will provide a more aesthetic appeal for Ontario’s main transportation hub.

Proposed Platform Design. Photo Credit: Globe and Mail

The roof is to be constructed using three layers of glass. This glass will be specially treated to deflect sunlight, preventing solar heating of the platform. In addition, the side walls are designed to allow air to flow freely through the platform, while preventing rain water from entering (Globe and Mail).

Union Staion’s Iconic Great Hall

The Great Hall, located on the north side of Union Station, is the most iconic and well known part of the building. To preserve the history of this landmark, the hall will only receive small repairs. The historic hall will then be restored to its original grandeur, and shall continue to be the hallmark piece for the station.

New TTC Platform

The TTC subway platform at Union Station is unusually thin, and serves both the Yonge and University subway lines. As a result, a new platform will be added to the south side of the tracks, increasing the stations capacity. This new platform will serve the Yonge bound traffic, while the old platform will serve the University bound traffic (TTC).

New Platform Layout. Photo Credit: Globe and Mail

The Final Product

In addition to these major improvements, a number of smaller projects will be completed.

VIA rail’s Panorama Lounge has been re-constructed, and is now open to passengers (VIA Rail). The ‘moat’ that currently exists between Union Station and Front St. will receive a glass roof to create a comfortable environment for passengers. The underground PATH system, which consists of 28 km of underground pathways, will be expanded with a new route up York St., connecting with the existing tunnel at Wellington St.. Finally, a lower level shopping centre will be created underneath the central concourse, increasing retail space from 35,000 to 153,000 square feet (Globe and Mail). Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2015, in time for the Pan American games hosted in Toronto.

The revitalised station is the gateway to the heart of Toronto, and will be a major component of improving the cities image on a global scale for years to come.

Electrified Concrete: Creating Smart Cities

Lightning Hitting San Fransisco’s Bay Bridge. Photo Credit: Daily Mail

The concept of electrified concrete is not new. In 1980, W. Hymer wrote a research paper outlining the advantages of allowing current to flow through concrete. These included: protecting against lightning, eliminating static electricity, environmental healing and radio frequency interference  (Concrete Construction). Despite this, little research was done to develop the concept.

Until now.

Researchers at  the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) have begun developing a concrete which allows electricity to flow freely through it. This “smart concrete” can be used to prevent ice from forming, detect micro-cracks, and create cyber secure buildings. The concrete is mixed using conductive aggregates, which allow current to flow freely through the concrete (Txchnologist). However, this technology is expensive, and would only be implemented on critical sections of road and for bridge decks. In these cases, the cost of implementing the system is overshadowed by the amount cities spend on repairs.

Electrified Concrete Could Create “Smart Bridges”. Photo Credit:

According to NRC’s Rick Zaporzan, “With a few tweaks, it can be used for developing a crack-detection system if it’s hooked up to proper sensors that can monitor and interpret that data”. In addition, the concrete could be used to block electromagnetic signals from entering or leaving, creating a cyber secure building. Rick Zaporzan claims that, “The concrete can also be used to protect extremely sensitive medical equipment, and that’s a huge application” (Txchnologist).

Implementing “Smart Roads”

By allowing electricity to flow through concrete roads, vehicles will be able to “recharge” their batteries while driving. Researchers at Japan’s Toyohashi University of Technology have created a process, wherein current sent through concrete decks is able to power objects on the surface (so far they have used the electricity to light an incandescent bulb). Although the technology is in the early stages of development, it could be used to power electric cars, eliminating the need to pull over and recharge (Engadget). 

In addition, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a 24km strip of road which is able to supply specially made buses with power. Metal plates embedded within the road surface create electromagnetic waves, which provide electricity to the batteries built into each bus. This system eliminates the need for overhead wires, and allows buses to use significantly smaller batteries (CTV News).

The concept is explained in this short video:

Wall Street Journal Video

The possibilities for this product are seemingly endless. As cities begin to invest in smart infrastructure, more ideas will form, creating a much different world. Until then, however, it will remain a popular research topic for institutes around the globe.