UBC Chemistry Centre - Heritage Sustainability

Past and present coexist comfortably in heritage laboratory renovation

The BC granite facade and leaded windows were cleaned, and the copper scuppers and downspouts restored
by Barb Gordon

Completed in 1923, the Chemistry Centre was UBC’s first permanent building and is a major heritage landmark.
It is one of only two Collegiate Gothic style buildings on campus, complete with granite facade, copper scuppers
and downspouts, leaded windows, and corridors with detailed brickwork and woodwork.
Although these fine architectural details were still intact, the building was in desperate need of life safety and seismic upgrades. It could no longer support today’s chemistry research, and its original building systems were practically non-functional. With 60% of UBC’s buildings over 30 years old and a history of inadequate maintenance funding, the Chemistry Centre situation was far from unique. A bold initiative was needed.
Enter UBC Renew. In a rejection of the “new is better” mentality, UBC and the provincial government entered into a partnership to preserve and upgrade the deteriorating building stock. UBC Renew’s premise is that retention of the building is inherently sustainable, diverting waste from the landfill, avoiding the energy, carbon emissions, water and coal consumption in the manufacture and transportation of new building materials, saving millions of dollars, and preserving campus culture. A UBC Renew building must be renovated for no more than 67% of the cost of a comparable replacement building.
The Chemistry Centre is the most significant building to be renewed under the program. UBC challenged the design team to:

  • reduce the impact of demolition by retaining as much of the building as practically possible, while reconfiguring to create state-of-the-art open concept chemistry labs, lecture theatres, and student, faculty, and administrative spaces,
  • harness the building’s potential to maximize sustainability benefits,
  • achieve LEED silver standard,
  • preserve the building’s distinctive architectural features, and
  • intensify the use of space and build in flexibility for future reconfiguration.

The design team, led by Henriquez Partners Architects, responded to this challenge with a scheme that preserved the heritage character of the exterior, the entrances and circulation spaces, while creating state of the art laboratory spaces which range from fume hood intense synthetic chemistry labs to analytical chemistry labs with computer workstations.
Open concept labs allow maximum adaptability to changing research and team sizes, and the top floor labs actually incorporate the heritage corridor. All exterior facade elements were repaired and cleaned, including — after much deliberation — the existing single-paned windows which, although not energy-efficient, are a significant identifying element.
The design team seriously considered introducing a second interior window system for better efficiency, but energy modelling indicated there would be so much heat generated by the lab activities that heat loss was not one of the most pressing issues. Given the tight budget, this option was discarded.
The design team took advantage of the building’s location, large operable windows, and relatively narrow floor plate to maximize passive ventilation and daylighting and drastically reduce the building’s energy consumption. All occupied rooms have operable windows; the non-load bearing concrete masonry demising walls were removed to create bright, open spaces, and existing skylights were uncovered to flood the third floor labs with daylight.
Cross-ventilation delivers fresh air and free cooling without fans, and the building’s high-mass stone and concrete elements maintain relatively stable indoor comfort conditions, absorbing “cool” from the prevalent summer breezes, and solar radiation from the low winter sun.
The building’s annual energy consumption is projected to be 470MJ/m2 — an energy cost saving of 46% compared to the baseline case. Innovative measures include high-efficiency lighting, heating, and cooling systems, heat recovery from building exhaust, high-efficiency pumps, and hot water heating savings from low-flow fixtures and reduced water consumption; the new chiller systems incorporate rejected heat into preheating water.
The ventilation system was upgraded to LEED Indoor Air Quality standards, and new control systems improve building operation and maximize efficiency. New piping to the existing radiators controls the zones and optimizes perimeter radiation, and fume hood controls decrease energy consumption when not in use. Existing materials were used wherever possible, and new materials were selected on the basis of being recycled, regionally extracted, and/or of low emissions content. Even with the challenges of hazardous materials removal, careful waste management resulted in 86% of construction waste being recycled.
In addition to preserving a heritage landmark, the project:

  • consumed approximately 60% less resources than demolishing and constructing a comparable new building,
  • diverted 323,500 kg of solid waste from the land fill,
  • avoided 1,155,300 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions being released into the atmosphere,
  • saved 18.18 million MJ of primary energy over the manufacturing, construction and end-of-life stages, the equivalent of 443,300 litres of heavy fuel, and
  • saved over five million litres of water and 92,400 kg of coal by retaining the existing components instead of manufacturing new.

This $31.8 million project has set a new benchmark for sustainable renewal of the university’s buildings. The rich detail and traditional materials of the heritage corridors, entrances and staircases complement and contrast with the clean lines and functional appearance of the various research labs. Past and present now comfortably coexist.



  • Architect: Henriquez Partners Associates, Vancouver
  • General Contractor: Ledcor Special Projects, Vancouver
  • Electrical Engineer: RADA, Vancouver
  • Mechanical Engineer: STANTEC, Vancouver
  • Structural Engineer: Cy Loh & Associates, Vancouver
  • LEED Consultant: STANTEC, Vancouver
  • Commissioning Agent: KD Engineering Co., Vancouver
  • Envelope Consultant: RJC Consulting Engineers, Vancouver
  • Code Consultant: Gage-Babcock & Associates Ltd, Vancouver
  • Environmental Consultant: A.C.M. Environmental Corporation, Vancouver
  • Photos: Martin Dee, Vancouver


  • Structure Existing: Concrete frame and floor slabs, underside exposed except in corridors and stairs, exterior cavity walls of granite masonry [exterior leaf] and concrete block [interior leaf], interior non load-bearing demising walls of concrete block, single pane windows.
  • Structure New: Concrete shear walls.
  • Exterior: Soprema roof membrane, glazing by Phoenix Glass, heritage window refurbishment by Vintage Woodworks.
  • HVAC: Ground source heat pumps, fan coil units by McQuay International, Models TSS and TSH; heat recovery ventilator, photo voltaic panels, radiant slab heating and cooling, power generated from renewable resources.
  • Interior Existing: Decorative wood and masonry in entrances, corridors and staircases; ceramic tile floors in corridors, marble staircases; wood doors refurbished where possible.
  • Interior New: Tectum acoustic panels in lecture theatres with Tremco acoustical and butyl sealants, Armstrong VCT and SDT vinyl flooring in labs, linoleum flooring in admin and lecture theatres, Camino Modular Systems floors, carpet tile in office areas by Crossley/Tandus, ceramic tile laid over existing in washrooms using Mapei Floor Leveller and Ultrabond Eco Adhesive; metal stud and CGC drywall on lab side of corridor walls; lighting by Cooper, and lighting controls by Johnson Controls.
  • Building floor area: 5,725 sq.m
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