Combining Efficiency With Occupant Comfort at The University of British Columbia's New Undergraduate Biosciences Complex

Dennis Giobbe, Diamond Schmitt Architects
Kevin Shea, AME Group

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The new Undergrad Biosciences Complex at The University of British Columbia is a major renovation and addition to an existing facility. Combining both existing infrastructure, the new addition and an existing aesthetic provided exciting challenges to both energy efficiency, occupant comfort and addressing the idea of biophilia. The design approach to comfort included both typical strategies and atypical strategies that more closely related to the idea of the well being of occupants and comfort associated with the surroundings that were created with the development of the building.

The first step to comfort and typical strategies included evaluating the performance of the glazing system to balance daylighting opportunities with solar gain and glare control, and, where possible, hydronic radiant flooring systems were used outside of laboratory spaces. The second step looked at atypical strategies for thermal comfort from the University's perspective: natural ventilation mixed with partial cooling for office/small classroom spaces, which were atypical for UBC which had generally required no mechanical cooling. This strategy required modeling and detailed discussions with the University. Third, the architectural team took on the task of considering and implementing the idea of biophilia within the building. This creates a comfort separate from thermal comfort, and more in line with occupant wellness and happiness with where they work and study.

When the design team considered energy conservation, it also needed to consider occupant safety, which first led to discussions around what is the right air change rate for these labs, and how should they exhaust labs with open experiments. From there, the design team utilized onsite heat recovery through all means possible to optimize the total energy use. A number of these strategies were: exhaust air heat reclaim; process cooling heat reclaim; specialized header system with heating/cooling connected to optimize temperature reset; and clean air transfer to laboratories from offices/classrooms etc. With all of the above considerations, the team had to fit everything into the existing facility structure while maintaining the floor-to-floor heights in the new section. Gymnastics in architectural ingenuity mixed with detailed collaboration with all disciplines was required to make it work. This presentation will showcase sustainability, coupled with comfort, from the perspective of the design team.

Learning Objectives

  • Identify contemporary sustainable features that focus on providing science learning environments that align with advances in pedagogy;
  • Gain an understanding of sustainable design features that focus and promote the comfort, health and wellbeing of students and educators;
  • Gain an understanding of how the concept of Biophilia can inform building elements; and
  • See the benefits of considering total energy use when designing the systems that support the research and teaching labs.


Dennis Giobbe, OAA LEED AP Associate, Diamond Schmitt Architects, is a graduate of Ryerson University and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He is a licensed architect with the Ontario Association of Architects and a LEED Accredited Professional. Dennis has been working at Diamond Schmitt Architects since 2003. Since joining, Dennis has worked on many technically complex projects for academic, healthcare, and public clients.

Kevin Shea P.Eng., CPHD, LEED Green Assoc., Principal, joined AME in 2014 and is currently leading the Science and Technology sector at AME. Kevin's wealth of experience has come from working on a range of projects over his career from small laboratory TI's to large new builds. Kevin's team is focusing on further developing the ever-changing and evolving Science and Technology portfolio for the AME Group.


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