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Energy.Environment.Experiential Learning

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Xululabs, Xululabs

Project Name

Energy.Environment.Experiential Learning

Project Status



264,050 sq. feet


The University of Calgary


  • : Dialog
  • Structural Engineer: Dialog
  • Electrical Engineer: SMP
  • Civil Engineer: Aecom
  • Duke Projects
  • Construction Manager: EllisDon Corp.
  • General Contractor: EllisDon Corp.
  • Landscape Architect: O2 Planning + Design
  • Anton Vlooswyk Building Envelope Engineering
  • Sereca Fire Consulting
  • FFA Consultants in Acoustics and Noise Control
  • Spiegel Skillen + Associates

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Project Description

For much of the year, the University of Calgary in Alberta is pretty bleak—the weather cold, the landscape barren, and the campus devoid of much architectural interest. Enter Peter Busby, Intl. Assoc. AIA, and his design for the 264,050-square-foot, $145.5 million (CAD) Energy.Environment.Experiential Learning (EEEL) center. “We wanted the building to stand out,” says University of Calgary director of campus planning Jonathon Greggs of the five-story structure, which boasts a glass-and-aluminum exterior that gleams in the high-plains sunlight. Busby adds,“We made it shiny and added color. I’ve raised four kids and I know what attracts them.”

The building brings together six different disciplines in one building, three each from the science and engineering departments. Sited near the north edge of the campus, EEEL serves as a new gateway to the university. And while laboratories for chemistry, biology, bioscience, and civil, mechanical, and chemical engineering make up the core of EEEL’s program, its social spaces are the main event.

University planners created a narrative as part of the program statement, stipulating that an inviting stair should connect the first three levels where undergraduates could engage in peer-to-peer learning. Busby, Perkins+Will, and their joint-venture firm, Dialog, embraced that demand, creating a simple atrium plan for the building, centered around a five-story space lined with labs on its north and south sides. The stair connecting the first and second floors stretches the full width of the atrium, narrowing slightly as it continues to the third floor. Students have embraced the stair as a place to study, converse, see, and be seen. The labs that line both sides of the space enjoy maximum glazing so that natural light enters from the north and south, putting the building’s occupants on display. “It’s opportunistic and serendipitous,” Greggs says.

The university called, rather vaguely, for a “sustainable building” that would not compromise the program. Busby and his team targeted a LEED Platinum goal and “we had to be determined,” he says. Among the building’s environmentally conscious elements: earth tubes that heat and cool the main theater, radiant floor and ceiling systems, and a high-performance envelope with triple glazing. “It’s one of the most efficient lab buildings in North America,” Busby says. “It already meets the 2030 Challenge.” Large touchscreens at the south entrance and on each floor of the building will display the building’s energy metrics. Standing in the building on a 12 C (53 F) February day, Greggs noted, “it’s probably heating itself today. We’re just moving the air around.”

The façades are clad in a system of aluminum panels that are modeled differently on each side, expressing the building’s environmentalism as part of its “shiny” aesthetic. On the north side, the panels angle up to reflect the ambient light and to brighten the surface. On the south side, they angle down and reflect direct sunlight onto the adjacent plaza that’s mostly shaded by nearby buildings. The east and west panels are canted sideways toward the north, cutting down on reflections while capturing ambient light. Horizontal aluminum fins shade windows on the south side of the building, and these same elements are used diagonally across glazing on the east and west sides of the building, introducing another geometry into the façade while effectively shading with the least obstruction to the windows. Bright-green solar shutters on the north and south façades add color to the building while denoting double-height spaces within; motors move those on the south façade to block the sun.

It’s still in its first academic year of occupancy, but EEEL seems to be meeting expectations. “Many students are saying, ‘I want to learn my stuff here,’ ” project manager-designer Rick Piccolo says. But Busby is more interested in the longer-term effects on the community. “You’re training the occupants to behave better,” he says. “It’s a culture shift that happens over time.”
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