the agritect

@VELD architect, southwestern Ontario

Archive for sustainable design

VELD architect supports the Region of Waterloo's OMB appeal

Sure "signs" of developers at work in Waterloo Region

Sure “signs” of developers at work in Waterloo Region

Being a farm girl and a city girl engaged in urban&rural design and sustainable design there is no way the VELD architect could not show their support for the Region of Waterloo’s decision to appeal the OMB ruling to increase the develop-able land in the Region.

Sustainable Waterloo has displayed the facts very well on their blog so I won’t go into them again. but here is a little summary. The Region of Waterloo has always been a strong advocate for a hard and fast countryside line that reduces urban sprawl and saves their prime farmland in the Region. In the most recent Official plan the Region is promoting deification on the existing urban structure, and downtown and limiting new development land.There are a multitude of benefits to this plan;

  • saving prime farmland
  • reducing infrastructure costs for roads, sewers, public transit, etc. (which also keeps taxes down)
  • more density to neighborhoods for better communities
  • more walkable cities
  • renews downtowns and every neighborhood in the city or town.
  • more sustainable growth and sustainable urban planning for generations to come.

The developers opposed this plan and took the Region to the Ontario Municipal Board, who overruled the Region and will force them to open significantly more land than they intended. The Region has recently decided to not be push-overs to developers and stand up to them and appeal the decision. This decision will affect not only this Region, but every other Municipality that chooses to hold a hard city limit in their planning policies. Waterloo Councillors are making a huge step to more sustainable growth.

I hope this issue can be a uniting factor for urban and rural dwellers and we can band together to support not only Waterloo Region (because this issue will emerge in your community eventually), but also every community in Southwestern Ontario.

To find out what you can do to help see Smart Growth Waterloo.

Regards and Good luck,


letterhead KH signature


to LEED® or not to LEED®…

…that is the question I get all the time.

But first, what is LEED®. LEED® stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a process of third part certification that determines the energy performance of your building. Based on a scoring system you can achieve a number of different levels;

  • just certified (40-49 credits), 
  • Silver (50-59 credits), 
  • Gold (60-79 credits), 
  • Platinum (80+ credits).

These credits can be achieved by meeting the various requirements from each of the following categories (note that each category has prerequisite credits that must be followed in order to achieve any certification);

  • Sustainable Sites (14 available credits) – deals with choosing brownfield’s for your developments, encouraging alternative transportation (hybrid, cycling, etc), protect and restore habitat, manage stormwater, reduce light pollution, reduce heat islands from roof and paving surfaces.
  • Water Efficiency (5 possible credits) – deals with minimizing water use in building, processes, landscaping, maintenance, etc. Also credits for innovative water technologies.
  • Energy & Atmosphere (17 possible credits) – This category deals with reducing your energy use by using innovative technologies, renewable energy, measuring and monitoring energy use.
  • Materials and Resources (14 credits) – the credits associated with this category is about supporting local business and regional materials, using certified wood, using renewable materials, using materials with recycled content, or recycled materials, and maximizing waste diversion to recycling centers.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (15 credits available) – this category encourages you to use low off-gassing materials, increasing the comfort of occupants with daylight and access to views, providing good ventilation and operable windows.
  • Innovation & Design Process (5 possible credits) – this category suggests you hire and architect (just kidding)! But it would definitely help in coordinating and managing all these credits. This category is for interesting and unique ideas that do not fit into other categories.

After you total up your points then submit the necessary paperwork, you can have LEED® certification! See here for a more detailed checklist.

So what good is that most people ask?

LEED® has a number of benefits. It does good things for the long term operating costs of your building For example less turnover of employees because of the great environment, reduced energy costs, a sense of responsibility to the future quality of the environment. LEED® can also be a major marketing tool, for example the Fifth Town Cheese was the only LEED® certified facility in Canada of its kind, that pretty unique marketing.

So how much will this cost me? 

This is another common question.  The costs are becoming less and less as more and more people implement green strategies. The legal standards set out by the Building Code, Conservation Authorities, and Municipalities become more in line with LEED® criteria and thus the credits are now required by law anyways. It depends what point you are pursuing and what your project baseline is, but generally there seems to be a range of 0-3% of your construction costs additional. However this upfront cost, will pay itself back many times over through the life of the building. It requires some long term thinking, which most business owners would appreciate.

Material, Energy, and Water savings

Should I pursue LEED®?

This is the most important question! Is LEED® right for you and your project? I recommend that LEED® certification be used where your clients will recognize the certification or you can use it for marketing purposes. But I also always recommend good sustainable design and construction practices and LEED® is a great guide to the options.  But there are other options as well such as Passive Haus, ecological footprint, Green Globes, etc. All which have good ideas for building sustainably.

…in the end its up to you to define what sustainable means to you and how you want to pursue it in your next building project.

Find out more about LEED® here. Or send me a comment if you have more questions about sustainable energy-efficient design

Who moved my cheese?

That's what I felt like after biking 35km to the Fifth Town cheese factory in Prince Edward County. Designed by Lapointe Architect, it has been on my architecture bucket list for many years for a few reasons; it was designed by an architect; it gave me hope that an architecture career in agritourism was possible; it is LEED platinum, and I love cheese. Unfortunately, within the past few weeks it entered bankruptcy and was closed (and not because the architect went over budget), just as I had the time to visit Prince Edward County.

After a 30km bike ride to get there it was a welcome rest point, with dedicated VIP bike parking (a LEED point). Unfortunately I was not able to go in or get a guided tour there was lots to see from the outside, and I had done my research on the unique green features.

The factory is one of Ontario’s only cheese factories (or any rural building excluding wineries) that is LEED certified. It meets the criteria for Platinum, which is the highest level of certification. For those of you who don’t know what LEED is, (a post is coming) it stands for Leadership in Energy and Efficiency Design and it is a certification process the measures and confirms reductions in energy use for your building. The diagrams below shown the energy, water and material savings the design provided to this business owner, when compared to other industry standard designs of the same type of building. These savings would get passed onto the business owners! you the farmer! Not to mention its a great marketing tool!

Material, Energy, and Water savings

The building has some unique building materials to give it character and make it unique. Not only does it have corrugated steel cladding (inexpensive) it uses a composite lumber (the red stuff), as well as this unique product called Durisol blocks for the foundations. Durisol blocks are like insulated concrete forms (ICFs), but they are made of a concrete wood fibre blend, giving them additional strength, more insulation value, and more sustainable materials. The Durisol blocks make up the walls for one of my favorite features of the facility; the aging cave. You can see me standing on what looks like a big mound of dirt, which it is, but it is cover and keeping cool the cheese aging cave. You can see in the photograph the viewing window/cave entry on the bottom right. The cool temperatures of the earth significantly reduces the energy required to keep the cheese cool as it ages.

Aging Cave viewing entry, and earthen covering

The facility also looks after water management and waste in a sustainable manner. Whey and wash water are waste products from the cheese making process. The site was designed with bio-wetlands to filter and clean this waste water so that it could naturally infiltrate into the ground again. The Factory also uses cistern to collect roof water and use it for non-potable (non-drinkable) uses.
Whey bio-filtration system

Whey bio-filtration system

Although there was no opportunity for me to taste cheese, there plenty for the building to “say” cheese, with all its goodness!20120605-124500.jpg

Farm Yard Design

When the helicopter photographers come knocking at your door each year asking if you would like a photo taken of your farmstead from the air. Do you shudder at the mess and disorganization of the yard, or are you proud to see the life you have built. If your like most farmers, its a combination of both. You have a beautiful piece of land and farmstead, but the mess of tractors and projects in the yard leaves much to be desired. The last time my parents had the photo taken, (and google as well) the yard was immaculate because a wedding was going to occur in the following few days (mine) and we had to clear room for the many guests. But I digress…The layout of your farmstead is an important part of farm design and there are many factors to consider.

1. View from the road

There is a tendency to arrange buildings perpendicular or parallel to the road. But we have to remember that these roads, drawn by a surveyor in an office randomly cut concessions through the landscape when they divided the lots in the townships. It is human’s nature to rationalize and organize the landscape to our will, (but that’s my artsy side coming out and post all on its own). The roads have no relationship to anything other than the ruler. They don’t compensate for creeks, drainage, sun paths, wind, mountains, etc. That being said we still want the barn, house, or farmyard to look appealing from the road. It should be understood where the house and barns are, where the laneway is, etc.

2. Wind Patterns

East wind is all it takes to make my mother-in-law shudder! The pig barn is about 300 ft east of the house, so when the uncommon occurrence of an east wind sweeps through the area it brings all the wonderful smells of pig farming with it! When you choose your site for a barn that might have smells associated with it, think about the prevailing winds of your area. In Southwestern Ontario the summer winds are generally from the south-west and the winter winds are from the north-west. locating a bad small to the west of the house is probably not a good idea, put the garden to the west.
You can also take advantage of natural ventilation in your barn or house if you understand you local wind patterns. Natural ventilation can remove hot air from a barn and keep air moving in the heat of summer. The cold winter winds can also encourage air movement int he winter, reducing the need for mechanical ventilation and energy consumption.

3. Sun Paths

The sun makes predictable paths through the seasons and can provide a building or yard with twofold advantages if we pay attention to the sun paths; light and heat.

The sun can provide the interiors of our buildings with free light! i.e. no electricity bill! There are technologies that can help regulate the light switch automatically so that energy savings are maximized when sufficient natural daylighting is available. The light also affects what the farm yard might be like, or where to plant your garden. Buildings cast shadows onto your yard, so you need to consider locations for new buildings relative to existing uses.

The second benefit from the sun is heat. Capturing the heat from the sun is a bit more difficult, but can result is huge savings in heating bills. By allowing the sun to shine into our buildings and capturing it using heat sinks like concrete floors we can achieve these savings. The sun even made it easy for us, in the summer the sun shines down on us from a very steep angle, and in the winter it is a very shallow angle. So in the summer using overhangs we can keep the heat from the sun out of the building when we don’t want it, but allow it under the overhangs in the winter when we do want the free heat.

4. Relationship to Other Buildings

Your farmyard is an important part of the farm, its where all the activity happens. Walking distances between buildings is important. Driving and turning space for tractors with wagons is also important. Make sure the milk truck or feed truck can get access to a building is key to an effective site design.

There are other relationships between buildings that can be designed into a site plan. Perhaps your building is a tall shed, it can protect a sensitive chicken coup from cold winter winds, or a pig barn from hot sun rays. There also may be energy connections between buildings

5. Regulations

Minimum distance regulations are a big part of siting buildings on farms. The regulation takes into account type of animal, smells, manure, and proximity to other buildings and your property line. More information on MDS can be found

Be sure to check local zoning by-law at your municipality for permitted uses and conditions on your property.

6. Topography

The bank barn is the prime example of how topography can play into building siting. The natural hills (or man-made if none can be found), allow easy access to multiple levels of a barn or house. Hills can also provide microclimate areas. Every hill has a warm side and a cold side, use this to your advantage.

7. Existing Services

Electricity, Septic, water are likely all existing on your property. Running these services long distances across your property can be time consuming and expensive. You want to ensure that distances are reasonable and efficient.

Site Design is a complex equation without clear answers, or one solution. Many of the factors above are simple, no-brainer decisions that don’t cost anything and can improve the building’s operation and efficiency. It’s all about what is a priority for you and your operation. What are the factors you use in designing your farmyard? Feel free to contact me if you want assistance in balancing all these aspects of site design. Good luck with your aerial photo shoot!

Hay and Straw Storage as Insulation?

I'm sure you've heard of straw bale houses, but did you ever think that you could use your straw and hay storage as insulation for your farm buildings? Straw and Hay makes a great insulator because it is full of air pockets, air being a great thermal break that does not allow heat to be transferred to sensitive areas like inside barns where animals are living. By strategically locating hay and straw storage on your farm you can save cooling and heating costs for barns and houses depending on your farm needs.

Winter above, summer below, Image from Barns and Outbuildings and How to Building them

This technique dates back to the pioneers who settled and started farming.  A simple wooden structure would be placed in the pastures and covered with straw of hay. This would then provide shelter from the sun in the summer, and be a supplementary feeding for animals out to pasture.

Winter-hay and/or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

summer-no hay or straw storage, copyright Krista Duynisveld 2009

We can also take this principle and apply it to a winter situation.  As hay and straw are collected in through the summer and stored for use during the winter, strategic storage can provide wind breaks for barns in the winter. Keeping the prevailing cold winter winds away from the barn walls can significantly reduce heating requirements for the sensitive chickens or piglets. By also adding an extra layer of insulation the heating that is put into the barn stays inside longer.  Not only that, but the convenience of having straw or hay located close to the feeding and bedding area is a bonus.  As the hay and straw get used through the winter you are left with an open barn again that can take advantage of natural ventilation and prevailing summer winds.

With a little bit of planning this simple strategy could save you money on heating and ventilation costs over the long term. And this strategy costs less to install than bigger fans and bigger heaters up front. Please feel free to add comments and critiques on how this might be adapted to work for you on your farm.

About the Agritect

They say you can take the girl away from the farm, but you can't take the farm away from the girl.  I left the family farm in 2002 to pursue a career in architecture and came full circle in 2008 when I started my master's thesis on architecture and agriculture: agritecture.

A few definitions (taken from Google definition):


The science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.

I grew up on a dairy farm in Middlesex County.  As a child I was fully immersed in the family farm. I very quickly realized that farmers are more than just farmers, they are contemporary Renaissance Men, understanding business, accounting, management, science, biology, ecology, mechanics, electronics, buildings to name only a few.  But farming is not only a science, its a lifestyle choice.  Its hard work! But is also the fresh air, the morning dew, the view over the land you work, seeing the first sprouts break through the crust of the field. Farmers are the caretakers of the land and the architects of the rural landscape.


  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.
  2. The style of a building with regard to a specific period, place, or culture.

The transition into architecture was not difficult (except for the city life). The architect is not unlike the farmer, they too are a Renaissance men (or woman in this case), skilled in many disciplines and big picture thinking. Using creative problem solving skills, the architect can think about a design in many different ways (including ones you might not think of) in order to find the best solution. Architects are trained  to manage many disciplines and many streams of ideas, problems, complex systems, and information. My education trained me in structure, ventilation, lighting, electricity, costing, etc. Not only are they trained in technical systems, but they also integrate culture, beauty, site and user specific needs into their thinking about buildings and design. All this information is then combined into one simple solution that assists the users of the building in terms of budget, energy costs, ease of use, and pleasantness of experience.  That is a good architect.


  1. The art or practice of designing and constructing farming buildings with regard to the specific place, culture, and science of farming.

When I began the undertaking of my thesis on agriculture and architecture, I had an advantage; I knew the story from both sides.  I understood that a barn, house, or farm design, needed to be absolutely practical, it had to make economic sense, but I also knew how to make it energy efficient, personal, and as moving as the traditional bank barns. After the completion of my thesis I knew that working in the rural and agriculture sector is what I wanted to do. I am the agritect.

I am currently practicing architecture as an intern architect in the Waterloo Region and will soon become a fully licensed architect.

This blog is a resource, portfolio, and exploration of the sustainable relationship of agriculture and architecture. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in working with me.