October 1, 2012
By Michael McDonald, Honor Morris, and Guy Taylor
Laboratories and education facilities are among the most energy-intensive building types. On average, a lab consumes five to 10 times more energy per square foot than an average office building. For example, a laboratory fume hood, programmed to run on a continuous basis, will use three to four times more energy than an average house.
Labs also have myriad health and safety requirements that have a significant impact on energy use, adding complexity to the benchmarking process. Thus, creating an energy-efficient building that houses one or more labs is a significant challenge for any design team.
The Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia (UBCO) is home to two multi-purpose academic and research facilities that take the understanding of environmental design to a new level. Designed by Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd. (in collaboration with UBC Properties Trust), the UBCO Charles E. Fipke Centre for Innovative Research and adjacent Arts & Sciences Building have both been awarded five Green Globes under the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) program.
In November 2008, the three-storey 6579-m2 (70,816-sf) Fipke Centre became the first academic building to be opened as part of UBCO’s campus master plan, and the first building in Canada to achieve the full five Green Globes. It was also the first facility on the campus to use UBCO’s geo-exchange groundwater energy system for heating and cooling. Opening two years later in September 2010, the four-storey 7950-m2 (85,573-sf) Arts & Sciences Building has also been awarded five Globes, making the two projects the world’s first campus facilities to achieve this credential. In terms of the Green Globes Eco-Rating Program, they are the greenest laboratory buildings in North America. (The authors would like to thank staff at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia (UBCO) and Cobalt Engineering LLP, for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of this study).
Green design in laboratory environments
Located in Kelowna, B.C., UBCO serves the post-secondary education needs of more than 7500 undergraduate and graduate students, and aims to foster a locally responsive, but globally conscious, community. Energy-efficient design is at the core of the university’s planning initiatives, promoting sustainable stewardship
of a campus that has tripled in size over the last seven years.
Both the Fipke Centre and the Arts & Sciences Building contain offices, classrooms, student commons, and labs to support various innovative research projects. The Arts & Sciences Building also includes a theatre and an animal care facility.
Due to the issues surrounding energy efficiency, collaboration
was critical for this project, explains Albert Bicol—a partner with Cobalt, the mechanical engineers for both buildings.
“The design team worked closely with major stakeholders throughout the lifecycle of these projects to evaluate their overall efficiency, flexibility, and long-term environmental impact, and to ensure a high level of comfort and indoor air quality [IAQ],” he says.
Recent analysis of energy consumption data from the Fipke Centre indicates the lab is operating at 350 kWh/m2 annually (for all loads, including lighting and plug loads). A typical building in North America operates at about 400 kWh/m2 and traditional laboratories at 700 to 800 kWh/m2. Generally, systems designed on organic principles have been found to adjust responsively over time. In the animal kingdom, organisms face a succession of environmental challenges and ongoing adaption helps them survive and function in their ecological niche. Likewise, green buildings cannot achieve their objectives unless their performance over the facility’s entire lifecycle is anticipated.
Building commissioning, operations, maintenance, staff training, and user familiarity are always key considerations in the mind of the design team. For this reason, sustainably designed laboratories require a period of adjustment—between one and two years, post-occupancy—to permit these complex buildings to achieve optimal environmental performance levels.
The adoption of a collaborative method to design using building information modelling (BIM) emphasizes a ‘whole building’ approach, where the entire facility is viewed holistically as an interdependent system, rather than an accumulation of separate components. An effective integrated approach permits owners, architects, and engineers to work together from the beginning to implement any necessary changes to design and process. This ensures all building systems work in harmony, resulting in improved energy efficiency, sustainability, economy of construction, and enhanced occupant health and comfort. For example, consideration of natural daylighting principles, building orientation, glazing selection, and electrical fixture design allows all these elements to work together to provide optimal lighting levels for occupant comfort and task performance, regardless of the time or season.
The Green Globes rating system for energy efficiency highlights the significant impact of producing an environmentally responsive design for both buildings. The Fipke Centre is 46 per cent more energy-efficient than a standard reference building that meets Model National Energy Code for Buildings (MNECB) requirements. (Op. cit. “Green Globes Design: UBC-O Fipke Multi-purpose Academic & Research Facility.”)
Incorporating a centrally located wind tower in the design for the Arts & Sciences Building effectively maximizes opportunities for natural ventilation, ensuring the facility is 43 per cent more efficient than a MNECB reference building. (See the February 2011 report, “Green Globes Design: UBC-O Arts & Sciences Expansion,” by ECD Energy and Environment Ltd). This positions both the Fipke Centre and the Arts & Sciences Building as benchmarks for sustainable design for university campuses worldwide.
These and other passive design elements have enabled a reduction in mechanical system size and associated energy requirements. The aforementioned wind tower (also known as a ‘wind catcher’) is one form of passive cooling. The structure is designed to use wind or temperature change to create differences in air pressure between the environment within the tower and within the building—the result generates the flow of air.
Geo-exchange systems, meanwhile, use heat energy within either the ground or groundwater. A heat pump extracts this heat and distributes it throughout the building.
Employing recycled and sustainably sourced materials was also an important factor in the design of these reinforced concrete buildings. This included the use of:
Generally, building assemblies and materials—including the exterior precast concrete and brick—were specified for their low embodied energy, durability, and minimal maintenance needs.
Additionally, within the Globes system, both buildings scored 100 per cent for strategies to avoid or minimize the provision of materials that would produce air emissions, effluents, or be hazardous in any other way.
Creative learning through place-making
The design for UBCO was created with the future in mind. In the transition from a local college to a new regional university, the Fipke Centre and the Arts & Sciences Building were the first new facilities to be added to the existing campus.
With the intention of building on the ‘Okanagan’ sense of place that permeates the existing campus, the design team employed complementary colours, textures, landscaping, and spaces to reflect the main characteristics of the local geography. The two facilities also aim to set the direction for continued growth and development of the new university. This was based on the UBCO master plan that envisioned a hierarchy of precincts, nodes, and gathering spaces interconnected by formal axis and informal pathways.
With a vision for highly sustainable, people-centric facilities, the planning and design for the two new buildings brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, including a new faculty, an existing facilities team, the UBC Properties Trust, architects, engineers, and construction managers. The purpose was to create a highly collaborative team that balanced broad program requirements within a fixed budget and countdown schedule, permitting construction to coincide with the start of a new academic year.
The fundamental design concept was to use the synergy between these projects to create a unique ‘green precinct.’ This would act as a catalyst for sustainable design and place-making during the university’s build-out by setting up spatial, formal, and environmental cues for future development. Today’s new building and precinct is tomorrow’s context.
The ‘place-making’ premise is an important component of a successful learning experience, as it enhances the sense of a community. For science buildings in particular, ‘place’ affects the performance of learning and research activities. Research has shown buildings in which students spend a good deal of time will influence how well they learn. (For more, see G. Earthman’s “Prioritization of 31 Criteria for School Building Adequacy,” published in 2004 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Maryland).
The objective of place-making is intimately linked with the architectural concept of connectivity and the ecological concept of sustainability. The coming together of these two elements creates a sense of place; in turn, this fosters creative learning and thought.
Dynamic place-making through connectivity
A strong connection to a place can reduce stress and improve positive social relationships and interaction; it is essential to create great academic environments. Ancestors in their primitive villages created places that aligned them with the natural world and reinforced patterns of ritual and social structure. Ceremony, social order, defense, hunting, gathering, farming, and waste management were all in harmony with the land.
The challenge for the design team was to regenerate connections that are part of the ritual of a university campus—to stimulate a sense of an interactive learning community. At the campus scale, architects design in the timeframe of generations. Some of the best campuses in the world have these systems in place for hundreds of years, notably the defining structures of Oxford University’s Quads or the cloisters at the university town of Assisi in Italy. In making these connections, some of the elements to be considered include:
During the concept design phase for the two buildings, existing and future campus precincts were identified, such as the ‘university centre,’ ‘academic core,’ ‘hill town residential,’ and ‘health and wellness’ precincts. Campus connections were then created between them, and the resulting intersections structured pedestrian flow, and created places such as courtyards, gateways, passages, and steps to sit on and view corridors. Opportunities for ‘ecological connections’ were also overlaid to create sun spaces, terraces, and places for shaded repose.
The renowned architect Christopher Alexander, father of the Pattern Language movement in computer science, has designed and built more than 200 buildings on five continents. (See Christopher Alexander’s 1977 work, A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction). Many of these lay the groundwork of a new form of architecture, in which detailed analysis of human behaviour patterns is crucial in helping architects structure the built environment:
No pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.
This leads to questions such as, are classrooms also theatres, or are they cafés for discourse and exchange? Are laboratories marketplaces for ideas, gardens of discovery, libraries of knowledge, or workshops of invention? If classrooms are ‘cafés,’ for example, traditional lecture seating needs to be rethought and redesigned to allow focused group conversations and interactions. Similarly, if laboratories are ‘marketplaces,’ this also encourages the concept of synergy.
The projects at UBCO incorporate interdisciplinary open-concept labs, where researchers of similar types can share the facilities and some of the equipment. One example is a joint laboratory in the Arts & Sciences building where two researchers share a cleanup and refrigeration space, but their work lab is separate. In other areas, two researchers share the same laboratory.
While the two new buildings at UBCO are clearly a departure from the architectural language of the original campus, they play homage to the existing context with material and formal cues, such as incorporation of bold brick panels at the base. Students will intuitively feel this connection and integration with context and landscape.
Dynamic place-making through sustainability
A sustainable environment is required to support life, without which connection to each other and places cannot occur. Sustainable design is therefore a significant component of an ability to create meaningful places. Bio-mimicry teaches design professionals the importance of not only learning ‘about’ nature, but also learning ‘from’ nature.
For example, termites are social insects that live in colonies of millions; they collaborate on a massive scale to achieve what no single insect could. Their recycling of wood and other plant material has an important ecological impact, and their presence has not altered the balance of nature. Termite mounds have tunnels and air conduits that exchange gases, regulate humidity, and maintain interior temperature within a very narrow band, varying only 1 C (1.8 F) from a mean temperature of 31 C (87.8 F). This is despite external temperature swings of up to 40 C (72 F).
The projects at UBCO illustrate this principle of creating sustainable buildings through collaborative design processes between professionals, owners, and users. Other approaches, such as recycling materials, employing natural air flows, and so on, allow architecture in harmony with natural principles.
Nature is a web of these types of symbiotic relationships. This approach to design is required to enable living spaces and experiences to connect to places and people. The relationship between students and their environment is a key component of learning:
Sustainable design does not merely signify the integration of green principles, but rather how the learning environment—social and physical—can contribute to the development of the learner. (See Peter C. Lippman’s “Can the Physical Environment Have an Impact on the Learning Environment?” from JCJ Architecture [New York]).
The UBCO Charles E. Fipke Centre for Innovative Research, and the adjacent Arts & Sciences Building are part of the evolving story of UBCO. The provision of both casual and formal spaces, and connections to the campus context, create a sustainable design in not only the ecological sense, but the social one as well.
These two buildings together foster a culture of connectivity and learning at UBC’s Okanagan campus, creating a locally responsive, but globally conscious, community that embodies the university’s academic plan in its response to place. This five-Green-Globe precinct is designed to grow into the campus of tomorrow at UBCO, where academic success and environmental sustainability are in synergy as dual objectives.
Michael McDonald is the principal and director of design for Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning. A graduate of the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Architecture, where he was awarded the Alpha Rho Chi medal for leadership, McDonald was the Kasian project director for both the UBCO Fipke Centre and the Arts & Sciences Building. He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Honor Morris is the media relations manager for Kasian. A published international author of books and academic papers, she has more than 20 years of journalistic experience in print and broadcast media. Morris can be reached at email@example.com.
Guy Taylor is an associate with Kasian and was the project manager for key phases during the construction of both the Arts & Sciences Building and the Fipke Centre. A graduate of the University of the Cape Town School of Architecture, his international experience encompasses small-scale architectural projects to large scale urban designs in a way that draws on the synergy between building and context. Taylor can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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