CIRS building heals the environment

Slide1The Center for Interactive Research on Sustainability building (CIRS) aims to do more than simply reduce the negative environmental impacts that typically arise from the construction and operation of a 60,000 sf building. CIRS’ goal is to have its existence make the environment better.

CIRS is a living laboratory at the University of British Columbia (UBC). It embodies the principles of regenerative sustainability and facilitates further experimentation. According to the CIRS website, the foundation of regenerative sustainability is “. . . to think of every aspect of modern economic activity . . . as acts of restoration and regeneration . . . a new paradigm that . . . helps us shift our mindset from measuring impacts into providing benefits; from sacrifice to contribution and finally, from net zero to net positive.”

Not only does CIRS capture rain to supply 100% of its water needs, it also generates a purified water surplus that is shared with the UBC campus. Furthermore, it aims to go beyond a net zero carbon footprint. CIRS expects to reduce the amount of carbon that would have been released into the atmosphere if it didn’t exist. It employs a three-part strategy toward achieving this. First building design and operation procedures minimize energy requirements. Second CIRS captures energy from the sun, from the ground, and from the neighboring Earth and Ocean Sciences (EOS) building’s waste heat. These sources provide more energy than CIRS needs for its operations so it returns energy to the OES building and the UBC campus. Finally the carbon sequestered in CIRS’ heavy timber structure is calculated to be more than the carbon released into the atmosphere by CIRS’ construction, including the manufacturing of everything within the building. To ensure that sequestered carbon is unlikely to be released into the environment in the future, CIRS is designed so that in the building can repurposed rather than demolished. If demolition is ultimately performed, the structure is assembled in a way that will facilitate easy deconstruction so that the wood timbers can be reused.

But perhaps an equally important sustainability aspect of CIRS is that in true academic and scientific tradition, detailed information about its design and operation is freely shared with the world through its on-line Building Manual and publications authored by its community. This information is not just about successes. It also includes challenges and mistakes, lessons learned, and steps taken, and contemplated, to address problems. As Albert Einstein counseled, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

The original version of this post first appeared as part of a longer article in Terrain.org.

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