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CIRS: Canada’s Living Laboratory

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CIRS, UBC, Canada; World's Greenest Building

CIRS, UBC, Canada; World's Greenest Building

When the world is still talking about making buildings in ways that help them meet a large part of their energy demands, what would you say about one that goes beyond just having a low ecological footprint by actually improving the environment – within and surrounding it – through energy generation and water purification on site?

The CIRS - Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability – at the University of British Colombia (UBC) promises all this and more.

Among its many awe-inspiring features are a living wall, a sustainability scenario visualization theater, a solar power lab, offices for people to develop campus sustainability initiatives, and a café that serves a meal with a message about food sustainability.

The World’s Greenest Building

The CIRS is being designed all at once by its architects, structural, electrical, and mechanical engineers in a process referred to as the Integrated Design Process. Instead of shuffling in and out of the project, its designers are working together, so the requirements of each specialty can be recognised and resolved in an ongoing, continuous effort.

Being designed by Peter Busby Perkins & Will, CIRS is regarded by many sustainability experts as the next step in green building.  And while, it seems early to be designating anything that’s a year away from completion as the best anywhere, there’s definitely a strong undercurrent in this project towards becoming the established greenest best.

The building’s official title of being “the world’s greenest building” tries to live itself up by offering an environment bathed in 100 per cent natural light in a GHG-neutral atmosphere, with a sustainable-mobility program and zero liquid- and solid-waste production.

Not only will CIRS be capable of 100 per cent rainwater capture and purification to potable standards, it will also “harvest” daylight. Movable louvres will change the building’s exterior appearance and receptivity to sunlight, making the CIRS a net energy producer.

“accelerating sustainability”

CIRS, UBC, Canada; the living laboratory

CIRS, UBC, Canada; the living laboratory

With this very apt slogan, CIRS is committed to creating a place and a space where solutions to the world’s sustainability challenges can be developed more quickly and comprehensively. The CIRS mandate is to accelerate sustainability in the Vancouver region by bringing people, projects and processes together in new ways.

Given the rate at which the world’s urban population, and hence energy use and resulting greenhouse gas emissions, are expected to increase, the CIRS has been designed with due recognition of the fact that the current rate of discovery and application of sustainable solutions to urban problems is not fast enough to keep up with the “urban tsunami” of people migrating to cities, or to meet carbon reduction targets.

And the CIRS team believes that this is because of the lack of multidisciplinary approaches in these processes, with the public, private and not-for-profit sectors working in silos, not benefiting from each other’s knowledge and discoveries.

This forms the premise for CIRS’s project brief: that of constructing a building at the frontier of sustainable design and operations in every way. The CIRS building is designed to not only have as little impact as possible, but also improve its surrounding environment.

“When it opens in 2008,” predicts the Greater Vancouver Green Guide to sustainable architecture, “CIRS is anticipated to be recognized as the most innovative and high-performing building in North America.”

Living laboratory

When it opens in spring 2011, CIRS will be the most innovative and high performance building in North America, serving as a living laboratory to demonstrate leading-edge research and develop sustainable design practices, products, systems and policies.

The CIRS facility pushes the frontiers of sustainable construction materials and building techniques—radically reducing emissions, materials consumption, energy use and water use.

A key goal is to live within the building footprint as much as possible. Much of the building’s electricity, lighting and heating—and all of its water supply, liquid waste treatment, ventilation and cooling—comes from the sun that shines on, the wind that blows through, and the ground that lies underneath the site.

Offering itself as a state-of-the-art ‘living laboratory’ where researchers and industry partners can perform research and assessment activities on current and future high-performance building systems and technologies, CIRS presents the opportunity of using the building itself as their lab.

In this sense, CIRS is used as a platform to test and showcase the technical performance and usability characteristics of the building’s technologies and systems, and to generate new knowledge about how to construct and maintain sustainable buildings.

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