Canadian Architect

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RAIC Awards – Green Building

The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability by Perkins+Will integrates a full range of sustainable design strategies.

May 1, 2015
by Canadian Architect

centre for interactive research on sustainability

Located at the University of British Columbia, the LEED Platinum-certified CIRS building includes a façade that supports deciduous vines to provide seasonal shading. Photo by Martin Tessler

ARCHITECT Perkins+Will
LOCATION Vancouver, British Columbia

Conceived by Nobel laureate (IPCC, 2008) John Robinson, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is designed to be the most sustainable building in North America, and one of the few worldwide that is considered a regenerative building. Developed in three different iterations at different sites over 12 years, CIRS is a testament to a strong vision and the architect-client partnership that championed the project since its inception.

The interior structure uses FSC-certified and pine-beetle-killed wood, while a generous skylight incorporates photovoltaic cells. Photo by Martin Tessler

The interior structure uses FSC-certified and pine-beetle-killed wood, while a generous skylight incorporates photovoltaic cells. Photo by Martin Tessler

Located at the University of British Columbia, the LEED Platinum-certified building houses 200 inhabitants from private, public and non-government organization sectors, who work together to advance innovation in sustainable technology and building practices and to create a springboard for their widespread implementation. The 5,675-square-metre “living lab” is organized around two four-storey wings, linked by an atrium that serves as a building lobby, entry to a daylit 450-seat auditorium, and “social condenser” space. In addition to academic offices, meeting rooms and social spaces, CIRS includes indoor environmental quality and building simulation software labs; a group-decision lab that has advanced interactive technologies to engage audiences in sustainability and climate-change scenarios; a building management system that shares building performance in real time; and a café that uses no disposable packaging and serves local organic food. Furthermore, researchers study inhabitant interactions with the facility to improve building performance and maximize inhabitant health and well-being.

The building’s solar aquatic system occupies the front corner of the site, where it is highly visible to pedestrians. Photo by CIRS Aqualab

The building’s solar aquatic system occupies the front corner of the site, where it is highly visible to pedestrians. Photo by CIRS Aqualab

CIRS emphasizes passive environmental strategies, demand reduction, and puts building systems on display. A pre-existing “desire line” that cuts through the site was retained and used as a strategy to engage pedestrians with the visible reclaimed water system, highlighting the project’s sustainability goals. The building massing contributes to the objective of 100% natural daylight and ventilation for all inhabitants; a living roof on the auditorium provides a courtyard amenity for upper-level office users; building-integrated photovoltaics shade operable windows; and the expressed wood structure is constructed of FSC-certified and pine-beetle-killed wood. The western façade’s living solar screen is planted with deciduous vines—once grown in, it will act as a dynamic shading device that responds to seasonal change. In addition to assisting natural ventilation, the publicly accessible atrium is an educational space where all of these strategies are visible.

A diagram illustrates the building’s multi-faceted sustainability strategies

A diagram illustrates the building’s multi-faceted sustainability strategies

Pursuing the Living Building Challenge, this “living building” harvests sunlight, captures waste heat from a nearby building, and exchanges heating and cooling with the ground—and returns 600-megawatt-hours of surplus energy back to campus while removing 170 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Supplying 100% of the facility’s water needs, CIRS collects and purifies rainwater for potable use and cleans wastewater in an on-site solar aquatics biofiltration system at a rate of 2,300 litres per day. CIRS’s wood structure sequesters 600 tonnes of carbon, helping achieve net-zero carbon in construction and operations.

CIRS is a research tool that demonstrates the possibilities in sustainable design, serving as a catalyst for change. The experience of creating CIRS has reshaped UBC’s vision for its campus and its role as an institution in addition to demonstrating how great the potential of sustainable development is around the world.

The 450-seat auditorium is daylit from above. Photo by  Martin Tessler

The 450-seat auditorium is daylit from above. Photo by Martin Tessler

Jury Comments
With a strong focus on natural light and ventilation, CIRS integrates a full range of sustainable design strategies. The building uses both passive and innovative approaches to sustainability to create architecture that is also a tool for research. It offers many strategies that are transferable to other building types.


centre for interactive research on sustainability
Located at the University of British Columbia, the LEED Platinum-certified CIRS building includes a façade that supports deciduous vines to provide seasonal shading. Photo by Martin Tessler


Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect

Canadian Architect is a magazine for architects and related professionals practicing in Canada. Canada's only monthly design publication, Canadian Architect has been in continuous publication since 1955.
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