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An Evolving Edifice That Will Improve With Time
Four universities Envision the Centre for Interactive research on sustainability as a Living laboratory with a lofty mission and ambitious performance goals
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By Joann Gonchar, AIA


This building monitoring and assessment zone will be constantly evolving. It will have a steel structure with catwalks and a permanent hoist to allow for frequent change-out of components. “It will never look the same twice and will be a continuous construction site,” predicts Donald Yen, program director for the Centre for Sustainable and Environmental Initiatives at BCIT, the primary research group using these labs.

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1. Atrium
2. Biofilter
3. Cistern
4. Green roof research
5. Building monitoring and assessment lab
6. Meeting room
7. Mechanical room
8. Bicycle storage
The CIRS building will have two office blocks connected by a central atrium, which will be topped by a saw-toothed skylight. Spaces like the visualization theater and policy lab will help the center fulfill its goal of public engagement.

More limited portions of the north facade will also be changeable, offering another orientation for the testing of building envelope components. The east and west elevations, the facades adjacent to the office portions of the building, will incorporate internal and external light shelves. Vertical fins will act as sunshades. These will have set points appropriate for different seasons but can be repositioned by the occupants for special conditions.

The framing of the main part of the building, which the designers refer to as the “core,” is based on a 26-foot-by-4-inch module. It is to be made of locally sourced engineered wood beams and columns, bolted together to facilitate reconfiguration and ultimately, disassembly, should the building reach the end of its useful life, says Paul Fast, a principal of Fast + Epp, the project’s structural engineer.

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1. Atrium
2. Café
3. Operations
4. Policy lab
5. Lab space
6. Project room
7. Biofilter
8. Meeting room
9. Receiving
10. Resource library
11. Theater
12. CIRS offices
13. Retail

The facility will have many operable windows, but will not be completely naturally ventilated. Because the site is near a rail yard and a fish-processing plant, the design team was concerned about air quality. “There will be times when we might have to button up the building,” says Martin Nielsen, Busby Perkins+Will principal.

A raised floor system over a radiant structural floor will allow for flexibility for wiring and office layouts and will provide a plenum for the displacement air system. Return air from these cavities will be drawn into the atrium space, filtered through a living wall, and recirculated through the building.

In an earlier scheme, the raised floor sat above precast-concrete panels. These have since been replaced by concrete on steel deck because of budget concerns. Although the assembly is likely to be made of poured-in-place concrete, it will nevertheless be panelized to maintain the potential for disassembly, says Nielsen.

The requirement that the building be demountable presented a special seismic design challenge for the structural engineer. He has had to devise a method for the transfer of shear forces across the joints in the radiant-floor assembly. “It’s just one more parameter to think about,” says Fast, who has also designed a steel brace for the building as an alternative to the plywood shear walls more typically used in low-rise structures. The brace will absorb the energy of a serious quake, sparing the other building components, but likely becoming permanently deformed in the process, he explains. The braces will be bolted to the building’s beams, and could be easily replaced if damaged during a temblor.

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