Text description provided by the architects. Conceived by Nobel laureate (IPCC, 2008) John Robinson, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) was designed to be the most sustainable building in North America upon completion. Developed in three different iterations at different sites over twelve years, CIRS is a testament to a strong vision and the architect-client partnership that championed the project since its inception.
Located on a dense site at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, CIRS houses researchers 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 sm ‘living lab’ is organized into 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 Theatre that has advanced interaction 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 user interactions with the facility to improve building performance and maximize inhabitant health and well-being.
CIRS maximizes passive environmental strategies and demand reduction, and puts sustainable systems on display. A pre-existing ‘desire line’ that cuts through the site was retained, used as an urban strategy to highlight the reclaimed water system and engage pedestrians with the project’s sustainability goals. The building massing contributes to the goal of 100% natural daylight and ventilation for all inhabitants; a living roof on the auditorium roof provides a courtyard amenity for 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.
Exceeding LEED Platinum status, CIRS was designed to be ‘net positive’ in seven different ways—ways—energy; structural carbon; operational carbon; water; turning passive occupants into active inhabitants; promoting health and productivity; and promoting happiness. 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 GHG emissions annually. Designed to supply 100% of the facility’s water needs, CIRS collects rainwater for potable use and purifies wastewater in an on-site solar aquatics biofiltration. CIRS’s wood structure stores 904 tonnes of carbon, reducing the carbon footprint compared to the average UBC building by almost 90%.
More than a building, CIRS is a research tool that demonstrates the possibilities in sustainable design and construction, serving as a catalyst for change. A Technical Manual and website (www.cirs.ubc.ca) further disseminate information with lesson learned, on-going updates, and actual performance data from the project. The process of creating CIRS has reshaped UBC’s vision for its campus and its role as an institution; the results from CIRS are helping move the world toward a more sustainable future.