J URY COMMENT - A project notable for its modesty, but which at the same time is warm and inviting in its materiality and use of natural daylight. The interiors are beautiful, the surrounding landscaping makes for an appealing playspace, and the performance numbers for energy and water are particularly impressive. The directness of the design approach and the simplicity of the environmental systems offers a level of confidence that net zero performance can be maintained over time. All and all an engaging environment in which future generations can learn about sustainability.

The UniverCity Childcare is located at the heart of Simon Fraser University’s high-density, sustainable community of UniverCity. The facility hosts 50 children ranging from three to five years old. The building provides two “centres” with separate spaces and services for two groups of 25 children as well as a “community” space for the shared use and interaction of the two groups.
In addition to the nine staff of the SFU Childcare Society, it also hosts academic researchers from Simon Fraser University who use the facility as a living lab to observe and conduct first hand study of early childhood education.
This project is the first of its kind in the world to integrate the Living Building Challenge™ - arguably the most advanced green building certification program in the world - with the renowned Reggio Emilia childcare program.
The Living Building Challenge [LBC] criteria influenced the sustainable design strategies for this project, and resulted in a building of net-zero energy, net-zero water, exemplarily healthy indoor air quality and locally- and responsibly-sourced materials. The LBC was a catalyst for the project’s contribution to social, economic and environmental sustainability.
In harmony with the ambitions of the Living Building Challenge, the Reggio Emilia model for early childhood education emphasizes three “teachers”: the educator, the environment, and the broader community in which the children live. Through a design that strives to seamlessly integrate the indoor and outdoor spaces, the childcare provides unique opportunities, both indoors and out, for children to explore water, light, air, gravity, vegetation, and seasonal change.
This was achieved by the L-shape, shallow floor plans of two educational “wings” of the building as they embrace the playground and landscaping. The goal was to design a building that brings the nature in while encouraging children to explore and discover the outdoors. Natural ventilation and daylighting in all indoor spaces create the connection with nature as children spend their time indoors.
At the same time, the outdoor play environment is designed to engage children’s creativity, curiosity, and their need to connect with their social and physical surroundings.  Departing from traditional equipment-based playgrounds, this site has been designed to promote imaginative, nature-based play as children physically manipulate their environment using water, sand and vegetation.
The net-zero energy requirement of LBC is met using passive design strategies to reduce heat losses, optimize solar heat gains, and maximize daylight penetration. Roof-mounted solar thermal panels generate more energy than the building requires, and through the concept of ‘scale jumping’ the UniverCity Childcare engages in a reciprical arrangement with the community’s district bio-energy plant, making the building net positive in energy on an annual basis.
Although local health regulations required the use of treated municipal water for potable use, all other water demands are met by onsite collection and storage systems. All waste water is directed to an onsite treatment system that meets the most stringent requirements of the BC Ministry of Health.
Given that the majority of building users are young children, the design team went to great lengths to ensure that the materials specified contained no environmental contaminants. For example, flooring products containing recycled rubber from tires were ruled out because tires have been found to contain a myriad of toxins and pollutants. Fly-ash was also avoided because of containing lead and heavy metals. All wood products used in the project are either FSC-certified or salvaged [including a large amount of Pine Beetle killed wood].
Remarkably, these advances in environmental and social sustainability have been achieved at a cost 18% less than that of similar, conventionally designed facilities in the region.


  • Owner/developer SFU Community Trust
    Hughes Condon Marler Architects
    Structural Engineer
    Fast + Epp
    Mechanical Engineer
    Integral Group
    Electrical Engineer
    MMM Group
    Landscape Architect
    space2place Design Inc.
    Civil Engineer
    General Contractor
    Martin Tessler Photographer


- Projected electrical energy intensity = 65kWh/m2/year [All energy is from renewable sources on a net annual basis]
- Potable water consumption from municipal sources =  1,168 L/occupant/year
- Potable water reduction relative to reference building = 80 %

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