RAIC Awards – Green Building: Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, University of British Columbia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.