Rain Forest Green

The Liu Centre for the Study of Global Issues, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

Architectura Planning Architecture Interiors Inc. in collaboration with Arthur Erickson

The Liu Centre for the Study of Global Issues made news last year when former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy retired from political life to become director of the UBC think tank. But apart from its high-profile occupant, the Liu Centre building is also notable for its bucolic setting and its program of sustainable design.

Principal-in-charge Noel Best explains that the Liu Centre was required to meet a high standard for energy efficiency–50% of the guidelines set out in the Model National Energy Code for Buildings–to minimize impact on UBC’s strained campus infrastructure. The University is so concerned about this that its Land and Building Services department has established the position of Director of Sustainability, currently occupied by architect Freda Pagani. Building on previous green building initiatives like Matsuzaki Wright Architects’ nearby C.K. Choi Institute of Asian Research (see CA July 1996), the Liu Centre seeks to establish a new benchmark for sustainable design at UBC.

Best acknowledges that, as with most green projects, not every design decision optimized the building’s energy performance. Working in collaboration with Arthur Erickson–whose celebrated Museum of Anthropology is a stone’s throw from the Liu Centre–the design team sought to strike a balance between a variety of sometimes conflicting requirements. One early trade-off was the decision to split the facility into two discrete wings–a seminar wing with public spaces and an office wing for more private research activities–and create two landscaped courtyards providing contained views that address the client’s desire for serenity and stillness. This resulted in a high surface-to-volume ratio, requiring a large proportion of building envelope relative to floor area, but the small office floor plate also means that all workspaces benefit from natural daylighting. Despite extensive glazing, solar gain is mitigated by the site’s extensive vegetation, preserved to provide cooling shade for much of the building.

The project makes extensive use of salvaged materials collected from recently demolished buildings both on and off campus, including the glulam beams and structural wood decking used in the circular Case Room. High volume fly ash concrete was used on the job, contributing to a reduction in CO2 emissions relative to conventional concrete mixes, and finishes and furnishings were selected for their recycled content and low toxicity.

With a view to expressing the building’s green features as part of its architectural vocabulary, mechanical, electrical and structural systems are left exposed, reducing the need for finish materials. The Liu Centre includes such staples of green building as operable windows, high performance low-E argon filled glazing and free span structure for flexibility of office layouts, but also provides covered bicycle stalls and showers to facilitate an alternative to car commuting. Finally, building occupants are provided with a “users’ manual” to help familiarize them with the building’s alternative approach to creating a comfortable work environment.

Client: University of British Columbia

Architect team: Noel Best (principal-in-charge), Kori Chan, Rick Clark, John Christensen, Arthur Erickson, Richard Klopp, Donna Kurtz, Peter Wreglesworth

Structural: Bush Bohlman & Partners

Mechanical: Keen Engineering Co. Ltd.

Electrical: Robert Freundlich & Associates

Landscape: Cornelia Hahn Oberlander Landscape Architects

Quantity Surveyor: James Bush & Associates

Specifications: Alan Scott

Material testing: Levelton Engineering

General contractor: Haebler Construction Inc.

Demolition contractor: Litchfield & Co Ltd.

Donor: Dr. Jieh Jow Liou & Family

Area: 1,750 m2

Budget: $3.1 million

Completion: September 2000

Photography: Gerry Kopelow