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Completed in 2011, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) has become a hub for sustainability at UBC. The 4-storey building has a gross area of 5,675 m2 (61,085 ft2), which includes offices and labs, a 425-seat auditorium, meeting rooms, The Loop Café and open spaces for studying and social interaction. The total project cost was C$35 million, with a total construction cost of C$24 million. It has achieved CaGBC’s LEED Platinum certification and obtained a number of sustainability and high-performance awards. 

CIRS was the first demonstration project of UBC’s Campus as a Living Laboratory Initiative. The building systems and infrastructure, as well as the process of planning, designing, building and operating the facility are part of an ongoing research program. CIRS is equipped with a robust network of sensors and controls to ensure that all systems are properly monitored to facilitate performance tracking and reporting, to enable the implementation of continuous optimization protocols, and to collect data for a variety of research projects. 

Through research, the building will be studied over the course of its useful life, and optimized through innovative design and new technology. Dr. Ray Cole, former Academic Director, defined the CIRS building as a “100-year process” rather than a fixed “product” to be used and decommissioned in 30 or 40 years. 

Flexibility, modularity, adaptability and expandability principles were included in the design of CIRS to ensure that it can adapt to new uses and to respond to future requirements without the need of expensive and wasteful renovations. Strategies such as using mechanical connections to join structural components, which enables the complete disassembly and repurpose of its constituent components, increases its resiliency to change and reduces its total cost of ownership. 

CIRS demonstrates a different approach to building design: one that is grounded in the principles of Regenerative Sustainability and strives to achieve net positive performance in terms of both the environment and human wellbeing, by contributing net benefits that flow from the building into its surrounding community. [1]

Exceeding LEED Platinum status, Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) was designed to put sustainable systems on display and act as a “living laboratory” and catalyst of change where students, researchers and partners test and demonstrate designs and technologies to advance our understanding of sustainable building and community practices. [2]

An academic building, CIRS houses offices, meeting rooms and labs. The building design incorporates passive strategies for daylighting and natural ventilation, and utilizes a combination of renewable and innovative energy systems, including a geothermal system, photovoltaics, solar thermal hot water and heat exchange with an adjacent building.  

The building structure is a hybrid of concrete and mass timber, with glue-laminate (glulam) columns and beams, and floors of lumber decking sourced regionally from pine-beetle infested forests. While the structural integrity of the wood is not compromised, trees killed by the pine beetle are a major fire hazard for Western Canada. The wood in CIRS is estimated to sequester the equivalent of 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide.  

Landscaping and proximity to nature are key components of building design. The building is surrounded by natural plantings and the landscape is designed to channel stormwater runoff into the local aquifer. A living wall on the west facade provides seasonal solar shading. An intensive living roof with local and adaptive plants creates a habitat for insects and birds. [3]


International Sustainable Campus Network,  Sustainable Campus Excellence Award, 2015
Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC), Green Building Award, 2015
SAB Magazine, Canadian Green Building Award, 2014
WoodDesign, Wood Design Awards of BC, 2014
Treehugger Best of Green, Design and Architecture 2011


[1]      “Building Overview.” Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Accessed June 16, 2021. https://cirs.ubc.ca/building/building-overview/.

[2]       Davis, Andrea. “Kathy Wardle.” Perkins&Will, April 13, 2021. https://perkinswill.com/person/kathy-wardle/.

[3]      “The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability.” sustain.ubc.ca, May 14, 2019. https://sustain.ubc.ca/research/research-collections/centre-interactive-research-sustainability.

Additional information:

“Building Manual.” Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Accessed June 16, 2021. https://cirs.ubc.ca/building/building-manual/building-manual/.

“The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability Opens at the University of British Columbia.” Canadian Architect, November 8, 2011. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/the-centre-for-interactive-research-on-sustainability-opens-at-the-university-of-british-columbia/.

“Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability Receives 2015 RAIC Green Building Award.” Canadian Architect, April 7, 2015. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/centre-for-interactive-research-on-sustainability-receives-2015-raic-green-building-award/.

“Project Design.” Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability. Accessed June 16, 2021. https://cirs.ubc.ca/building/building-manual/project-design/.

“UBC’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability.” YouTube. University of British Columbia, November 2, 2011. https://youtu.be/dzNZO7WXBw4.

Project Title: Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, UBC
Artists:  Perkins&Will
Year: 2011

Place: Vancouver, BC

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