A project like CIRS requires vision and leadership, to take an ambitious idea from concept to construction. At UBC, CIRS was conceived in 2000 by Professor John Robinson, who approached UBC’s Campus and Community Planning office with an idea for a new kind of building—a structure that would perform at the frontier of sustainability.
After his initial inquiries, Dr. Robinson connected with Peter Busby, a Vancouver architect excelling in green building design. Together, Dr. Robinson and Busby developed a vision and went looking for recruits to their cause. They organized a steering committee meeting and began talking with potential partners. Alberto Cayuela, then a consultant with Stantec and now the associate director responsible for CIRS at UBC, joined the team as program manager in 2003. Initial project funding was secured that same year.
Choosing the CIRS home
Once the concept was locked and the team was in place, the next step was to select a building location. Initially, CIRS was planned for construction on the UBC Point Grey campus but the location was moved to the Great Northern Way campus for two reasons:
To better position CIRS as an inter-institutional project (UBC leads the project in conjunction with Simon Fraser University, BC Institute of Technology, and Emily Carr University of Art + Design), and to expand its scope and breadth.
The complexity of creating an inter-institutional project on land owned by the Great Northern Way campus delayed the project timeline. In January 2008, the decision was made to move CIRS back to the UBC Point Grey campus. With a single institution (UBC) now owning CIRS, and with the application of UBC’s knowledge and experience in developing on-campus facilities, the project moved forward quickly. Although CIRS was no longer situated on the Great Northern Way campus, other institutions continued to participate in CIRS through involvement in academic partnerships, advisory councils, research teams, and more.
The University explored a few location options on campus and settled on building beside the former “Stores Road”, now renamed Sustainability Street—one of the first green corridors that will intersect the campus and lead to public commons areas.
Bringing the vision to life
An integrated building design process began in April 2008, to reaffirm the CIRS vision, determine sustainability goals for the building, and find solutions to the construction and building operation challenges ahead.
Construction on the CIRS building began in March 2009, with utility relocations and the removal of an old storage facility. Excavation and foundation work followed six months later. Construction completed in August 2011 and CIRS’ official opening is November 2011.
A concept like this hasn’t been tried before at a North American university, and the process of bringing the building to life serves as a great example of institutional innovation. Post-secondary institutions traditionally focus on education both inside and outside the classroom, but it is not often that learning comes from the bricks and mortar of the building within which one learns.
At the beginning of the project, the challenge was making the CIRS concept real to stakeholders. It was a powerful idea with no funding, and no credibility. Through a sustained campaign of awareness-building, strategic partnerships, visual presentation of virtual building designs, CIRS became a tangible idea that could be realized…
Now that everyone believes in the CIRS vision, the greatest challenge is meeting the expectations of CIRS inhabitants and developers by pushing the boundaries of sustainable building design as far as they will go.