Building Overview

The CIRS Building

CIRS was first conceived in 1999 by Dr. John Robinson, a professor at UBC, as an opportunity to create a sustainability showcase in the province of British Columbia: a building in which to push the envelope of sustainable design by integrating passive design strategies with the most advanced sustainable technologies of the time to achieve an off-the-chart level of performance.


Completed in 2011, the Centre has become UBC’s sustainability flagship and is the home of dozens of UBC sustainability researchers, planners and policymakers. The 4-storey building has a gross area of 5,675 m2 (61,085 ft2), which includes offices and labs, a 425-seat auditorium, meeting rooms, The Loop Café and open spaces for mingling and social interaction. The total project cost was C$35 million, with a total construction cost of C$24 million. It has achieved CaGBC’s LEED Platinum certification and obtained a number of sustainability and high-performance awards. CIRS is currently seeking Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge recognition.

CIRS was the first demonstration project of UBC’s Campus as a Living Laboratory Initiative. The building systems and infrastructure, as well as the process of planning, designing, building and operating the facility are part of the CIRS research program. CIRS is equipped with a robust network of sensors and controls that are part of a sophisticated building automation system that has more than 3,000 points. This capability is required to ensure that all systems in the building are properly monitored to facilitate performance tracking and reporting, to enable the implementation of continuous optimization protocols, and to collect data for a variety of research projects.

Through research, every aspects of the building will be studied over the course of its useful life, and optimized through innovative system design and the application and demonstration of new technology. Dr. Ray Cole, former Academic Director, defined the CIRS building as a “100-year process” rather than a fixed “product” to be used and decommissioned in 30 or40 years. CIRS will not become obsolete because entire systems and components will be replaced with newer, higher-performing technologies supporting relevant research throughout the entire lifecycle of the building.

Flexibility, modularity, adaptability and expandability principles were included in the design of CIRS to ensure that it can adapt to new uses and to respond to future space configuration requirements without the need of expensive and wasteful renovations. The entire building was built as a “Meccano” set with mechanical connections joining structural components that will enable the complete disassembly of the building and the repurpose of its constituent components at the end of its useful life. This increases its resiliency to change and reduces its total cost of ownership (TCO).

CIRS demonstrates a different approach to building design: one that is grounded in the principles of Regenerative Sustainability and strives to achieve net positive performance in terms of both the environment and human wellbeing, by contributing net benefits that flow from the building into its surrounding community.

Documents from the design process, illustrate the development of these concepts:

To see photos of the building under construction, visit the CIRS photo gallery.

The CIRS Building Manual provides more detailed information on the design of the building and its systems, the design and construction process, and the lessons learned from the development of the project.