Graduating: Vancouver’s UBC reveals a progressive new extension

Interior of the Vancouver’s University of British Columbia. Metal tables with black and red chairs are arranged throughout the space. Large concrete columns support the level above. Wide stairs are to the left, that lead to the outside.
Vancouver’s University of British Columbia (UBC) has always been a hodge podge of styles and eras. But in the last decade, dozens of new buildings have graced the campus and raised the architectural ante considerably
(Image credit: Ema Peter)

In contrast to Arthur Erickson’s and Geoffrey Massey’s Simon Fraser University (SFU) which was designed and built as one, a singular architectural moment in time, Vancouver’s University of British Columbia (UBC) has always been a hodge podge of styles and eras. But in the last decade, dozens of new buildings have graced the campus and raised the architectural ante considerably.

The new Student Union Building designed by DIALOG (opens in new tab) and B+H (opens in new tab) is the latest – and is the most ambitious project to date. With a plethora of uses and spaces – from a theatre to office and retail space to a rooftop garden and daycare – it’s almost more of a mini-city than a building.

Merging curvilinear detail into a rectilinear plan over five floors and 250,000 sq ft, the Leed Platinum (a high environmental standard) building features a variety of spatial experiences. Conceived by the architects as part of a highly collaborative process with the student body (whose funds also financed 75 per cent of the $103 million budget) it’s more about ‘meeting student needs than architecture’, says DIALOG’S Joost Bakker.

Still, it’s a handsome building. Its apparent complexity is broken down into a relatively simple plan: a long narrow structure bisected by a contemplative ‘galleria’ study area to the east, that features framed views of the mountains and giant glulam beams that recall the upturned hull of a ship, and a light-filled atrium to the west.

The entrance way ushers students into a veritable marketplace of ideas – as well as retail and food venues – its scale and massing broken up by different levels, mitigated by nook like private study areas.

A giant wooden hub called the ‘nest’ floats over the atrium, and contains a black box theatre. An endless stairway to heaven – or higher learning – leads students to a labyrinthine lounge on the roof of the theatre. From this summit, the rest of the building and much of the adjacent square can be admired, lending a sense of ‘graduation’ and arrival.

The photo to the left shows the exterior of the Student Union Building. A brown building with narrow windows, supported by concrete columns. The photo to the right shows the interior of the building, with the photo being taken from above. We see metal tables with red and black chairs throughout the space and other levels of the building.

A new Student Union Building designed by DIALOG and B+H is the latest – and is the most ambitious project to date

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

A hallway in Vancouver’s University of British Columbia. There is a carpet on the floor, with concrete columns supporting the upper level. Wooden beams serve as decoration, with wooden boards covering the walls.

With a plethora of uses and spaces – from a theatre to office and retail space to a rooftop garden and daycare – it’s almost more of a mini-city than a building

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

The photo to the left shows the interior of the building, with the photo being taken from above. We see metal tables with red and black chairs throughout the space and other levels of the building. The photo to the right shows a wide staircase that leads to the outside, as well as the entire wall next to it is made of glass.

Merging curvilinear detail into a rectilinear plan over five floors and 250,000 sq ft, the building features a variety of spatial experiences

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

A detailed view of the interior. Wooden beams go up high on the curved wall that is covered with white wooden boards. Windows are placed between each column.

The project, says DIALOG’S Joost Bakker, is more about ‘meeting student needs than architecture’

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

Exterior view of the building, taken at night. We see the lights are on inside the building through panoramic windows that cover the entire wall on all levels.

Still, it’s a handsome building, its apparent complexity is broken down into a relatively simple plan

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

Two photos of the 'galleria' study area. The photo to the left shows the upper floors. Glass windows cover the entire far wall. Wooden beams are assembled in a way that resembles a ship. The photo to the right shows two men sitting on wide stairs.

A long narrow structure is bisected by a contemplative ‘galleria’ study area to the east, that features framed views of the mountains and giant glulam beams that recall the upturned hull of a ship, and a light-filled atrium to the west

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

Exterior view of the building at night. All glass wall lets us see inside. The lights are on. The roof looks like dominos stacked at an angle one on top of the other.Exterior view of the building at night. All glass wall lets us see inside. The lights are on. The roof looks like dominos stacked at an angle one on top of the other.

An endless stairway to heaven – or higher learning – leads students to a labyrinthine lounge on the roof of the buidling’s theatre. From this summit, the rest of the building and much of the adjacent square can be admired, lending a sense of ‘graduation’ and arrival

(Image credit: Ema Peter)

INFORMATION

Photography: Ema Peter