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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Normalizing sustainability in a regenerative building : the social practice of being at CIRS Coleman, Sylvia


Regenerative buildings are deemed “net-positive” because they are designed, in theory, to return positive benefits to their natural and social environments. On the “human factor” side, net-positive buildings are claimed to enhance human well-being, productivity and health. I consider how a net-positive building facilitates engagement, and enhances well-being, health and productivity. Through statistical analysis of pre- and post-occupancy surveys, interviews and document analysis, I investigate the inhabitant experience in a net-positive building, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) Living Lab on UBC campus. Using a tripartite model of culturally-based social practice theory as framework, I characterise the building itself as meaningful symbol, as object of interaction, and as intervention in everyday practices. These lenses indicated “new normals” of active inhabitance. A “qualitative performance gap” was interpreted as the difference between an aspirational, stakeholder-based “Official Story” about the building as change-agent, and the skeptical but forgiving “Lived Story”, constructed from inhabitant interviews. This “gap” between stories creates a space for new stories, and indicates a need for ongoing dialogue between stakeholders and inhabitants on the status of the change-making project, in keeping with the vertical integration of the Living Lab concept. Engagement was conceived as a form of social practice that could be enabled or hindered by social spaces and controls. Inhabitant satisfactions and dissatisfactions, recorded in pre- and post-occupancy surveys, were conceived as symptoms of stable or potentially changing practices. Quantitative comparisons and correlations show that CIRS provides excellent indoor environmental quality, especially in terms of natural light, workspace, air quality, and controls; it performed less well on acoustics and electrical lighting. Participants perceived that the CIRS building had a positive effect on their well-being and health, while productivity was enhanced but to a lesser degree due to common contemporary workplace design that impacted acoustic and visual privacy. The regenerative building context took over and rendered “pro-environmental behaviour” somewhat unnecessary. Emerging from the analysis is the notion of “normalizing sustainability” through material and symbolic interventions, and support for the utility of pre-to-post-occupancy evaluations and social practice theory, in providing evidence for human agency and larger-scale change.

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