Science Commons Sustainability

The Science Commons was intentionally designed to enhance the University’s sustainability. The facility demonstrates Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and aims for Gold LEED Certification. The sustainable design of the Science Commons enables it to be 40% more efficient than a comparable science facility. This self-guided tour guide will take you through the building to see how we are taking advantage of these advanced technologies and techniques.

Natural ventilation

The Science Commons is designed with an innovative double façade system. Air enters the building through exterior windows that are controlled by the Building Management System. The percentage of windows open is altered to suit exposure, time of day, wind speed/direction, and interior temperature/humidity. Radiant Heating/Cooling is integrated into the concrete floor slabs and perimeter radiators further condition the air to provide a comfortable office environment.  

Based on the local weather data, natural ventilation is possible at least 50 per cent of the time with some preconditioning through the building’s natural ventilation instruments. Interior Blinds and user operable windows into the double façade can be controlled by the occupants to tailor their individual environmental requirements.  

By adopting such green measures, the building will be 40% more energy efficient than any science facility of its kind.

Daylight and Integrated Shading

Daylighting is an essential component of the Science Commons.  In order to bring light as far into the footprint as possible innovative “light scoops” have been introduced into the space between each lab block, directly above the building’s public spaces. Each light scoop consists of clerestory glazing that reflects and diffuses light downward into the public space. Clerestory glazing is more economical to build and maintain than skylights and the quality of the light is softer and more uniform. As the sun moves over the course of the day, light conditions will subtly change, animating the building interior.

Approximately 80% of the spaces in the Science Commons receive some level of natural light via floor to ceiling exterior windows, interior glass partition walls, and light scoops. This strategy enables up to 50% of the spaces in the science commons to be naturally lit during available daylight hours.  

Connecting building occupants to exterior views and sunlight increases productivity, creativity and general well-being as well as a decreased reliance on artificial lighting.

Wind & Microclimate

In order to investigate the impact of the strong Lethbridge winds on pedestrian comfort and safety, a wind and microclimate engineer analyzed the effect the design of the building has on the surrounding area.  A scale model of Science Commons and its immediate environment was constructed and tested in a wind tunnel. Sensors were placed on the model at primary building entrances, walkways, outdoor terraces, parking lot and roofs to determine conditions at various times of year.  Wind conditions that exceed the established criteria were identified and control measures incorporated into the current design.

In addition, the wind tunnel was used to identify and provide recommendations for efficient air intake positioning, analyze potential effects of idling vehicles at the loading dock, optimised placement of cooling towers and mechanical equipment and to mitigate any potential re-entrainment of exhaust air on adjacent buildings.

Active lighting system

The Science Commons is equipped with a distributed digital lighting (DDS) control system to provide maximum control and flexibility. The lighting system was designed taking into account natural lighting cycles both daily and seasonally, occupancy, reflectivity of interior walls and ceilings, transparency of partition assemblies, and access to exterior light (daylight autonomy).

Integration of the lighting control system with light level sensors and lighting schedule is intended to make the maximum use of natural light and reduce electrical consumption. Facility Managers are able to monitor energy usage and occupancy to tailor light settings to meet the user’s needs seamlessly while optimizing the lighting using exterior light and automated blinds.

The lighting fixtures selected for the Science Commons are all state of the art low energy LED. The LEDs are equipped with motion sensors and are programmed to provide the most appropriate light levels without wasting energy. The longevity of LED fixtures is anticipated to reduce maintenance costs dramatically.

High efficiency systems

The new Science Commons is equipped with a state of the art digital building management and control system (BMS) that is used to monitor and automate all mechanical and ventilation systems. The BMS consists of a network of input and output devices that enable precise control over the active mechanical systems and allow an innovative integration of passive solar and ventilation strategies.

Science Commons also uses a series of heat transfer technologies that harvest heat/cooling from outgoing ventilation air to be transferred into the incoming air. This strategy “recycles” energy and significantly reduces overall heating and cooling costs.

These actively monitored systems are integrated into a whole building design that incorporates passive natural ventilation and active mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The integrated energy model of Science Commons is anticipated to result in a 40% reduction in energy consumption compared to a conventionally designed facility.


The Wintergarden takes advantage of the south facing sun exposure to pre-heat the air entering the buildings ventilation system. The temperature in this space is regulated by Venetian blinds and opening windows that are linked to sun tracking sensors. Depending on conditions, the Wintergarden uses incoming fresh air and/or recirculated air from the main atrium as a preheating strategy before the air is drawn into the ventilation system on level 10.

This space also serves as an informal gathering and social space for building users to enjoy the sunshine and fresh air between classes or on breaks.