By: Michael Timmermans

Juan Carlos Zarco, left, and Zeina Badaui with their model house that they will be entering in the upcoming Home Sweet Home competition. The competition, which is open to all architecture students from across Ontario, challenges students to design a property on the ground of 24 Sussex Dr. that is fully sustainable and environmentally friendly.

The challenge: build a home for comedian Rick Mercer on the grounds of 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the Canadian Prime Minister.

Oh, and it needs to be fully sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Students in Algonquin’s green architecture program believe they are up to the challenge.

They are participants in the Home Sweet Home Student Challenge and were in the atrium of Algonquin’s Centre for Construction Excellence on March 7 to showcase the best the green architecture program has to offer.

Their two entries were submitted to the Home Sweet Home challenge, an annual green building design competition open to architecture students across Ontario.

The theoretical goal of the challenge is to design a so-called granny flat or garden suite for Mr. Mercer, situated within specific boundaries on the back lawn of 24 Sussex thus enabling him to keep entertaining Canada’s leaders well into his senior years. All designs must exhibit energy and water-efficiency, environmental responsibility and affordable technologies easily adoptable by Ontario’s building sector using made-in-Ontario materials.

The finalists in the Home Sweet Home challenge will be announced April 2 with winners announced in mid-April.

“One of the challenges was to build it all on one level,” said green architecture student Ivett-González Ramirez of her entry. “We wanted it to be barrier-free and an open-concept space, so that was a challenge for our team.”

Green architecture student and contest participant Taj Akbari used some unique materials in his team’s design.

“We used shipping containers,” he said. “Right now there are too many and they don’t know what to do with them. You can buy them for around $2,500 and insulate them from inside and outside not to be infiltrated by water or air.”

His team factored in sun and wind directions on the site in their design and used solar panels to create more renewable energy.

“The challenge was to put all the environmental stuff in the residence,” said Akbari. “We have to save water, save energy. By saving energy you’re saving the environment. The life of our future children is all going to depend on this.”

Akbari obtained an undergraduate degree in architecture in Russia in 2005 and enrolled in Algonquin’s green architecture program as a way to validate his education in Canada.

Contest participant Matthew Phipps said the challenge for him was problem-solving.

“The idea of trying to get to the next step and then trying to problem-solve items that are in the industry to try and create something better out of it,” said Phipps, also a green architecture student.

Fifteen students are currently enrolled in the one-year green architecture program which is exclusive to Algonquin. Fleming is the only other college in Ontario offering something similar with their sustainable building design and construction program.

They study under the guidance of Richard Briginshaw, coordinator and professor of green architecture in the ACCE school of architecture, civil and building science. According to Briginshaw, the program is in its fourth year of operation and many of the graduates go on to work with architecture firms as green building and design consultants.

“I want to work in a firm that specializes in modern residential and then hopefully open my own company along the same lines,” Phipps said on his aspirations after completion of the program.

Will he maintain an emphasis on green technology in his future work? “Definitely,” said Phipps.

On his professional future, Akbari also has green in mind. “It’s not only about doing a job. It’s about creating awareness,” he said. “It’s about the future of our kids.”

Ramirez agrees.

“The challenge for me is to create good green buildings. We’re going to start right away. The first project we’re going to do after school is going to be green,” she said. “I would also like to go to schools and show them what we are doing and try to teach small kids about green so they start to think green for the future.”

“People don’t want to change so you have to create more awareness,” said Akbari.

If he gets a job in the construction or design industry he will push for environmentally friendly practices “even if at first my boss doesn’t agree. I’m going to keep pushing,” he said.