The University of British Columbia’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) will be a candidate to be regarded as one of the greenest buildings in North America once it is completed.  The building, which is presently under construction in Vancouver, is not only a superb example of sustainability in building design, but its purpose is to foster and accelerate sustainability and to bring together researchers, businesses, and nonprofits to work collaboratively on issues of sustainability.

The mission statement (PDF) for the building calls it a “living laboratory of sustainability.“  The design of the building avoids checklist green building, and instead is reaching to become a truly sustainable building:

“The first goal is to build a building that as far as possible lives off its biophysical income: the flows of energy and matter that are found on its own site. A substantial portion of the electricity that CIRS uses will come from the sunlight landing on the building. A significant portion of the ventilation will be supplied naturally by the wind. All of the lighting for all parts of the building will come from the sun, when it is available. All of the heating for the building will be supplied by capturing waste heat from adjacent buildings and through a ground source heat pump system. All of the water used in the building will be treated and reused.”

What is notable about this goal is the encompassing nature of what is projected for building performance:  Daylighting for all parts of the building, when it is available.  All water used in the building will be treated and reused.  The building is even expected to be a net producer of energy. Rather than talking about the building systems in percentages, as is often seen when talking about the benefits of green buildings, the descriptions of CIRS are stated in absolutes and imperatives.


The second goal also is extremely well suited to a green building by making many parts of the building replaceable.  All building systems are meant to be treated as a research test-bed, to be able to be “replaced in a ‘plug-and-play’ fashion as technologies improve.“  Rather than fixing the building at the technology of the present day, a modular approach is being taken so that improvements in technology can readily be adapted into the building.  The construction of the building is further described as having a “demountable structure that is constructed from precast concrete and wood that will allow easy deconstruction and material recovery.

Here, as well, the design team recognizes that green building is still very much a changing field, and what they are doing now is not necessarily going to be the best practice 10 or 20 years from now.  By building in flexibility, they make it easier for ongoing operation of the building, as well as keeping it relevant and at the forefront of green building.  Testing of materials and systems can also be carried out more easily when one product is swapped for another, to allow observation of different systems in the same environment

The design approach also seeks to be reproducible.  “[G]old-plated sustainability is not replicable. Our goal is to build CIRS for roughly the same cost as other comparable university buildings coming on line in the same time period.“  This makes the building relevant as an example that others can look to with design strategies that are accessible and applicable for other buildings.


Monitoring the building is also an important part of tracking and evaluating the performance of the building.  “A thousand points of monitoring will be built into CIRS, to collect data on the building’s performance and to develop a set of indicators applicable to the monitoring of other buildings,” according to the Greater Vancouver Green Guide.

Interestingly, while architect Busby Perkins + Will has hundreds of LEED accredited professionals on staff, and the firm has completed numerous LEED projects, there is no mention of LEED certification of the building in any of the materials reviewed.  The building is presently under construction, which you can follow on Flickr, with an anticipated opening in 2011.


Rendering credits: Busby Perkins + Will; noticed at EcoGeek.