Looking for less than zero

by November 28, 2010

The new CIRS building at the University of British Columbia (due Spring 2011)

With sustainability rapidly emerging as a typical design criterion for higher-end buildings, third-party “green building” certifications like LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) have become familiar terms even to non-architects. New or renovated buildings may be LEED certified at four levels — the highest being “Platinum” — based on a scoring system of factors like site design, water and energy usage, re-use of building materials, and indoor environmental quality. Achieving a top score is still rare: as of August 2010 there were only 24 LEED Platinum-certified buildings in the entire state of New York.

Yet for the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), LEED Platinum is too easy. The Centre’s new home, due to be completed in the spring of 2011, has been designed and constructed to meet the requirements of the Living Building Challenge, an ambitious benchmark based on the simple question: “What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?” Among other things, buildings meeting this benchmark need to be “net-zero” in energy and water usage, must use urban agriculture, and must restore natural habitats on “sister” sites.

Some interesting and informative presentation boards on the CIRS building design and its expected performance features can be downloaded here. According to its design, the building will in fact better the “net-zero” requirements in some ways: after building CIRS, the university as a whole will emit 50 tonnes per year less of CO2. UBC professor of sustainability John Robinson discusses its design philosophy below: