05/21/2016 01:05 EDT | Updated 05/21/2016 01:59 EDT

Canada's Most Incredible New Buildings Are More Than A Pretty Facade

Patkau Architects

Toronto and Vancouver may be building condo towers like crazy, but Canada's new architectural marvels apparently aren't among them.

The country's condo boom was not present in this year's Governor General's Medals in Architecture. The biennial award, run by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) and the Canada Council for the Arts, instead focused on public buildings, many in smaller cities.

But more importantly, the awards focused on innovation in building design. Many of the winning buildings were lauded for their sustainable approach to design and for energy efficiency. Several of them were recognized for their innovative use of wood — a material that is enjoying a renaissance in architecture. Wood skyscrapers are becoming a reality, and in Canada that trend is beginning to take root.

Boosters of the shift to wood building say the material is renewable, less expensive than many other building materials, speeds up construction time and makes for lighter buildings.

“This year’s award recipients are ambitious in their use of innovative and sustainable building technologies and display a solid commitment to the public realm," said RAIC President Allan Teramura.

Here is a selection of the winners of this year's Governor General's Medals in Architecture. Click here for the complete list of winners.

Head Office of Caisse Desjardins, Lévis, Que.

desjardins building

This building "breaks new ground in its organization and detailing," the award jury said. "Most of the space is designed for large open office layouts, but the designers have clustered the circulation and enclosed spaces along the north face of the building to create a zone of energy and contact." (Stephane Groleau photo)

Amphithéâtre Cogeco, Trois-Rivières, Que.

cogeco amphitheatre

This amphitheatre has already "become an icon in the transformation of the riverfront precinct in Trois-Rivières, providing a new identity for the city," the award jury said. The building is situated right up against the river, so that its red rooftop reflects in the water at night. (Paul Laurendreau photo)

Bridgepoint Active Healthcare, Toronto

bridgepoint healthcare

This new hospital complex was built on the grounds of Toronto's historic Don Jail, creating a striking blend of old and new. The project "suggests many ways to address the often dehumanizing aspects of the traditional hospital experience," the award jury said. Canadian Architect reports the building is the subject of a study linking design with health and wellbeing. The average length of stay for stroke patients has been reduced by 12 days at the new facility. (Nic Lehoux photo)

Wong Dai Sin Temple, Markham, Ont.

wong dai sin temple

Located in a neighbourhood of McMansions in Toronto's northern suburbs, this Taoist temple certainly stands out. "This is a beautifully crafted and designed building that ... raises the bar for architects working in the domain of new spiritual buildings," the awards jury said. (James Dow photo)

BC Passive House Factory, Pemberton, B.C.

passive house factory

This is no ordinary factory building. BC Passive House is a construction company that builds pre-fab homes to the Passive House Standard. The company's new factory reflects its values, with the all-wood factory built with energy efficiency and sustainable design in mind. (Ema Peter photo)

Halifax Central Library, Halifax, N.S.

halifax library

This is more than a library — it's "a community gathering place that responds to the diversity of its users, accommodating many more activities than the traditional library," the award jury says. "This 21st century facility is topped by the Halifax Living Room: an inviting, light, and playful public space with views across Halifax as far as the harbour." (Adam Mork photo)

University of Manitoba ARTlab, Winnipeg

university of manitoba artlab

This new facility for the University of Manitoba's School of Arts is integrated with the school's 105-year-old Taché Hall. "The juxtaposition of new and old adds up to more than the sum of its parts. With the new space, the architects give the older building a new face on campus," the award jury says. The building is raised one story above ground level, providing for pedestrian space underneath -- helpful when you're trying to minimize your exposure to Winnipeg's harsh winters. (Patkau Architects photo)

Wood Innovation and Design Centre, Prince George, B.C.

wood innovation design

The Wood Innovation and Design Centre at the University of Northern British Columbia aims to teach a new generation of builders the many new ways wood can be used in construction, and the centre's new building is itself an example of that. The building is proof that wood can be used for taller buildings, the award jury said, adding: "It is more than just a technological experiment; the project combines intelligence, beauty, and innovation in its approach to features such as the engineered wood curtain wall system, interior finishes, and modulation of sunlight." (Ema Peter photo)