Constructing Sustainable Buildings…or Laboratories…or Both

CIRS Artist Rendering

John Robinson’s seminar was awesome – I almost switched disciplines. He’s the project director behind the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), a building set for construction at the future Great Northern Way Campus in Northeast Vancouver.

CIRS’ goal is to “accelerate sustainability in the lower mainland”, and of course by proxy sustainable building practices around the world. Here are a few excerpts from the CIRS About page to give you a little taste of the underlying goals of CIRS:

CIRS is…

  1. Problem Focused: academic participants work in tandem with partners in the community to bring different forms of knowledge to bear on societal problems.
  2. Integrated: We work to integrate information, knowledge, and dialogue (to yield understanding) with action (to achieve results).
  3. Interactive and Emergent: In our work we will engage with the community using a variety of tools (data to action; modeling approaches; scenarios and stories). We will involve users in the design of research.
  4. Involves Collaboration and Partnerships: BCIT, ECIAD, SFU, and UBC are all involved

The “Integrated” and “Interactive and Emergent” portions of the talk teemed with creative ideas and what was, and will surely be, hard work.

Imagine working in a building that is an experiment in of itself; a building where the window panes, the carpeting, the heating and ventilation systems, the sinks, toilets, light fixtures and thermostats, and furthermore the way in which the building’s occupants interact with these components, are both monitored and changeable. As John described this scenario, I imagined a building made of glass lego – that is, one that produces 100% of its indoor lighting from natural sunlight (during the day, of course).

For example, when new and improved technology becomes readily available in the coming decade(s), you can exchange the old, now archaic and defunct “insert building system” with a brand new one. And why not? Why should modern buildings be so rigid in their design, and uncompromising to new technological developments?

What about building users? Should they not have a say in their working environment – they do typically spend a third of their workday there, after all? This too is part of the grand sustainable experiment that will be the CIRS building. Users of CIRS will be monitored, insomuch as their attitudes towards the building design and their experience interacting with their environment will be assessed. As a result, sustainable technologies will become more human friendly. To paraphrase John , “Imagine really enjoying going to work, where the air is cleaner than in your car, and the building design works for you instead of impeding you.”

What do you think? I think its p r e t t y cool.

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: