University of British Columbia, The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS)

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Project Info
University of British Columbia, The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS)
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Completion Date: 2011
Square Footage: 61,000
LEED-NC Platinum Certified
Living Building Challenge Target

Green Building Award, 2013
2013 Wood WORKS! BC Wood Design Awards

Top 5 Project, 2013

North American Wood Design Award, Canadian Wood Council Award, 2012
Canada Wood Council

Innovation Award, 2012
Architectural Institute of British Columbia

Awards for Environmental Excellence, Excellence in Urban Sustainability Finalist, 2012

Located on a dense site at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, CIRS was designed to be the most sustainable building in North America. The facility houses researchers from private, public, and non-government organization sectors, who work together under a common mission: to accelerate sustainability. The 61,000-square-foot ‘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.

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.

LEED Platinum Certified and targeting Living Building Challenge petal recognition, CIRS was designed to be ‘net positive’ in seven different 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. Supplying 100% of the facility’s water needs, CIRS collects rainwater for potable use and purifies wastewater in an on-site solar aquatics biofiltration system. The expressed wood structure stores 904 tonnes of carbon, reducing the carbon footprint compared to the average University of British Columbia 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 ( 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.

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