Building Design Overview

The CIRS Building Manual contains descriptions of the design and construction of the building, including the sustainable features and systems, and documented lessons learned.

The different chapters relating to the project setup and design overview are listed below.


Executive Summary:

The Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is an internationally recognized sustainable and high-performance building, which serves as a living laboratory for research and innovation. It was designed to serve as a catalyst for the advancement of sustainable building and urban development practices and policies. The Technical Manual was developed in 2011 to document the lessons learned from planning, design and construction.

View the Executive Summary Chapter of the manual for more details.

Project Background & Overview:

The CIRS building was designed as a “living laboratory” that allows research and investigation of current and future sustainable building design and technology, as well as the impact of inhabitant’s actions. The research is grounded on effective policies, civic engagement, and group decision-making combined with advanced visualization and simulation technologies capable of communicating data through various means.

View the Project Background & Overview Chapter of the manual for more details.

Vision and Leadership:

The vision for CIRS was to develop the greenest building in North America and accelerate the adoption of sustainable building and urban development practices. The vision was protected and nurtured by a core team whose passion and depth of expertise inspired innovation and advanced the design concept and philosophy.

View the Vision & Leadership Chapter of the manual for more details.


Partnerships were a key component of CIRS. The building was designed to be a best practice project, with replicable concepts, which was only possible through the involvement of industry and their efforts to create sustainable products and manufacturing processes. The partnerships extend the network of project stakeholders into non-academic fields and enhance both the project creditability and financial viability.

View the Partnerships Chapter of the manual for more details.


The CIRS project was heavily influenced by the experiences of the different academic, administrative, and industry partners, who worked to bridge the gap between the current conditions of the time and up-to-date sustainable design capabilities and technologies. The building was designed to house and support a diverse group of researchers, while providing data and infrastructure to support collaborative research projects.

View the Research Chapter of the manual for more details.

Goals & Targets:

The goals and targets of the CIRS project were created to uphold the project vision and accelerate the adoption of sustainable building and development practices. Three goal categories were defined when considering the building design: (i) have a net positive impact on the ecosystem health, (ii) provide a socially and bio-physically healthy environment for human inhabitation, and (iii) integrate the performance of the building with the building inhabitants.

View the Goals & Targets Chapter of the manual for more details.

Rating Systems:

CIRS targeted certification through both the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Canada New Construction 1.0 and Living Building Challenge 1.3 rating systems. LEED certification had been an early objective for the project, but the goals and targets went beyond the level of the performance required to achieve the highest level of LEED certification. The leadership and design teams pursued the Living Building Challenge certification as a project target, to help provide a framework for some of the more advanced performance targets.

View the Rating Systems Chapter of the manual for more details.

Building Design:

Many drivers were considered in the design of CIRS, including site conditions, microclimate, surrounding context, accessibility of the site and campus, building program, inhabitant comfort, circulation, and construction. The building design had to be replicable and within an acceptable construction cost range. Additionally, the design had to make efficient use of the space on site and had to be flexible to accommodate different tenants, inhabitants, and users throughout its life.

View the Building Design Chapter of the manual for more details.

Design Process:

The design process for CIRS followed the traditional organization of an architectural project (schematic design, design development, construction documentation). The project team used an integrated design process (IDP) facilitated by building information modelling (BIM) to aid in the development of the design and in soliciting input from a wide range of project stakeholders and experts. The heart of the design process was a series of sustainability charettes that addressed both the high level conceptual design and the technical issues of the project.

View the Design Process Chapter of the manual for more details.