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The building includes the BC Hydro Theatre, which utilizes advanced visualization and interaction technologies to engage audiences in environmental topics and climate change scenarios. It also features a 450-seat Modern Green Development Auditorium, indoor environmental quality and building simulation software labs, a building management system that shares building performance in real-time, and a café that uses no disposable packaging and serves local and organic food. More the 200 people from a variety of academic disciplines will occupy the building, which will also be home to the UBC Sustainability Initiative (USI), which works collaboratively to focus the university’s academic and operational efforts on sustainability. Real-time building statistics will be made available to the public, and research on performance and building use will be used to improve future projects at UBC.

The four story, 60,000 square-foot facility is built in a U-shape to promote cross ventilation and infiltration of natural daylighting. A solar hot water heating system is situated on the roof, while photovoltaic panel window shades generate more than enough energy for the building plus 600 megawatt hours of surplus energy. The building collects rainwater and treats its own wastewater, while a green roof in the central courtyard and a living wall installation help process storm water and effectively insulate the building. Constructed largely of certified wood and beetle-killed wood (currently B.C.’s largest source of carbon emissions), the CIRS locks in more than 500 tonnes of carbon, offsetting the GHG emissions that resulted from the use of other non-renewable construction materials in the building such as cement, steel and aluminum.

Designed to LEED Platinum and Living Building standards, the net positive, living eco laboratory is more than just a super efficient research center. “The general idea of a lot of the sustainability agenda has been about doing less damage, being less bad, cutting back,” says John Robinson, CIRS director and a professor at UBC. “We’re interested in a slightly different approach we call regenerative sustainability. Can human activity actually make the environment better—not just less damaged, but actually better—and human life better as well?”

Images © Don Erhardt courtesy of UBC