KPMB Architects and Stantec Architecture’s recently completed new science and academic building, Science Commons at University of Lethbridge. The project blends into Canada’s iconic coulee landscape of Alberta, and takes advantage of passive energy harnessed from one of the country’s coldest, sunniest and driest climates as a result of the nearby Canadian Rockies.
The $280 million, 413,000 square-foot Science Commons presents a dual purpose. In addition to using sustainable practices such as light harvesting systems and passive energy design – all for a projected, overall energy use reduction of 53% – the Science Commons includes purpose-built, open and modular lab spaces for transdisciplinary interaction between the fields of chemistry, biological science, biochemistry, neuroscience, psychology, physics and astronomy. Other details on the project include:
- Climate Responsive Design: Capitalizing on passive energy from the unique climate, the project will achieve unprecedented energy reductions for lab space and the entire building through the use of features like an automated Venetian shade system to capture and block solar heat gain, as well as a double façade and glazing with massive “light scoops” that draw natural light into the core (created with climate engineers Transsolar).
- Passive Energy and Environmental Impact: A Winter garden passively heats or cools air year-round by injecting outdoor air to a mechanical penthouse system where it is used to supplement and offset lab space air requirements. Large central penthouse fan arrays maintain exhausts at constant negative pressure to modulate the exhaust air requirements at the labs, while reducing energy consumption and the need for extensive ductwork.
- Harmonizing Architecture and Landscape: Built into a rolling hillside, the building has primary entrances on three of its four floors embedding the structure seamlessly ‘in’ the surrounding landscape. The siting was combined with expansive glazing at lab spaces to disrupt the idea of “science behind closed doors” and to reinforce interconnectivity between researcher, visitor and natural landscape.
- Overarching Shade: Custom Levolux aluminum fins make up sunshade canopies that stretch along the east and west faces of the building, to simultaneously unify all four industry sectors under one roof pane, as well as diffuse the intense sun and drive natural lighting deeper into the core of the building.
- Respecting an Architectural Icon: The site sits to the north-east of and set back from Arthur Erickson’s iconic 1971 University Hall. While many options were explored to replicate Erickson’s linear format, the Science Commons is organized with four “lab loft” units representing industries of science, organized around a central “hub” to prioritize visibility and flexibility.