Professor named to Order of Canada

Barbara Black

People are still stopping Paul Fazio in the halls of the EV building to congratulate him. They’ve heard he will be paying a visit to Rideau Hall sometime soon to be named a Member of the Order of Canada for his contribution to engineering research and education.

When Fazio emerged from his doctoral studies in 1968, he naturally wanted to continue his research into the structural aspects of panelized building systems. A committee of experts from industry, government, and universities guided him instead towards the wider field of building engineering. Then Dean of Engineering Clair Callaghan urged him to think even bigger. Why not set up a research centre to bring together all the engineering skills involved in buildings?

Fazio was unsure at first, but Callaghan told him, “You never know where a new opportunity such as this will lead you.” Other administrators, including then Rector John O’Brien, were equally supportive.

The project secured $1.5 million from the federal government for research infrastructure (worth about 10 times that amount in today’s dollars), which was followed by approval and support from Quebec for an academic program in Building Engineering, and the Centre for Building Studies (CBS) was born.

The CBS started in 1975-76 with a compliment of 11 faculty positions, plus several full-time research and staff positions; it flourished in the subsequent decades. Its members soon had the highest per-capita grants in the university. The Centre gave the newly formed university a distinctive profile in Canada and beyond. As a result, thousands of students have passed through it.

Fazio said that while it was a challenge to find and keep researchers, the Centre has produced a lot of fine ones. They have studied the building envelope, materials, solar energy and energy use, wind, ventilation, noise, mold and noxious gases, light, heating and cooling systems, structures, and construction management — all the issues that affect the buildings we live and work in.

In the mid-1990s, when educational funding was tight, the Department of Civil Engineering was merged with the Centre to form the School for Building, later renamed the Department of Building, Environmental and Civil Engineering. Some of the steam went out of the Centre.

Fazio himself was sidelined in 2001 by a brush with cancer. “When you get sick, people tend to write you off,” he remarked wryly. Fazio’s own lab, which he developed in a rented facility near the Bell Centre over the past 24 years and is currently active, is scheduled for closing.

Writing him off would be a mistake. On his return to work, he continued his research, securing major grants, still holding the highest personal NSERC grant in the department, and supervising 14 graduate students. The discipline still has a high profile — “We’re still one of the top groups of experts in the world in Building Engineering” — and the number of students has grown over the years.

Grouping researchers to study all aspects of the building may see renewed popularity with the surge of interest in environmental issues. A former Fazio student, Hua Ge, is starting a similar program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

At Concordia, Andreas Athienitis, whom Fazio hired, leads a $5-million network on solar energy, and Radu Zmeureanu (see page 6), another of his former students, has regrouped building researchers across Quebec, forged new links with the construction industry, and is striving to secure infrastructural funding.

As Fazio says, high building performance is “one-third of the solution to global warming,” the other factors in energy consumption being transportation and industrial processes.

“It is again a propitious time for Concordia to advance building engineering and ride the current high tide of public interest in global warming.” The number of students has grown over the years. Induction into the Order of Canada gives Fazio new vigour to pursue this goal.