Innovator Profiles

Heather Tremain

Heather Tremain, Urban Fabric

Heather is the Principal of Urban Fabric – a consultancy that focuses on social, environmental and economic sustainability at the neighbourhood and city level.

What do you get when you cross a political science graduate with an architect, a filmmaker and a yoga instructor? In Vancouver, you get Heather Tremain – one of the city’s foremost pioneers in green building design.

Heather is the Principal of Urban Fabric – a consultancy that focuses on social, environmental and economic sustainability at the neighbourhood and city level. Urban Fabric is a relatively new endeavour, and a logical transition from reSource Rethinking Building, one of Vancouver’s first green building consulting companies that Heather co- founded with Robert Brown.

Heather and Robert’s collaboration began while Heather was in architecture school at UBC. Their first project together - Ardencraig was the first green market housing development in the city. Robert was the developer and Heather was the green consultant.

"These were the early years of green building in Vancouver. When we built Ardencraig we researched a number of products and experimented with different environmental design approaches and technologies. Outside of Harold Kalkie’s mixed-use development on West 4th, there just wasn’t precedent for green residential buildings in the city. A number of developers and city staff toured Ardencraig. We think it helped to create a better understanding of green building in the city."

While starting reSource and finishing her Masters in Architecture, Heather was also leading a television series profiling green homes for HGTV and Discovery Health with Omni Films, a local film production company. Her hands-on experience and her documentary pursuits gave her a micro and a macro perspective on the green building movement in Canada.

"At the beginning there were no rating systems – no common language. When we first got started there were some people talking about green buildings which to them meant “living off the grid with solar” – there was a big gap between them and mainstream development. As more architects started to experiment, standards like LEED and BOMA Best began to emerge, new green products arrived on the market, new technologies surfaced and a shared understanding of what green means began to emerge."

Heather points to a sweeping market transformation that has occurred within the last ten years. In 2000, reSource was one of the few companies actively engaged in developing and consulting on green building, now most architectural firms have LEED certified designers and most new commercial buildings in Vancouver seek LEED Gold accreditation. Green products are also more readily available and affordable, and the City of Vancouver now aspires to have carbon neutral buildings by 2020.

In 2008, Heather was awarded a prestigious Loeb Fellowship to Harvard University – a global award reserved for 10 emerging leaders in the built environment. Heather’s time at Harvard enabled her to take time away from the day-to-day concerns of running a business and look more broadly at the context of her work.

"At Harvard I took a step back, and looked at sustainability from a broader perspective. I explored the impact of culture, politics, neighbourhood design, transportation and affordability, and their relationship with my notions of design and sustainability. I wanted to understand the underlying systems, structures and forces and how those might be changed to create more sustainable cities."

Urban Fabric emerged as the next expression of Heather’s approach to the built environment and perhaps a logical evolution of the movement in green design. As the name suggests she is interested in the ‘fabric’ that holds the city together. In her new endeavour she will weave her experience in affordable housing, green finance, and policymaking to help create more sustainable urban strategies with a greater focus on the social aspects of sustainability.