ARCHITECTURE | Videos from the 7 Firms Vying to Design the New Student Union Building @ UBC

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First, let me state that I’m not a fan of open voting for architectural projects. I believe in juried competitions by a panel of peers, not those open to the hoi polloi. Not that I’m an elitist; it’s just that most people don’t give much thought to their built environment and are not really qualified to pass judgement on architectural submissions.

But, the University of British Columbia has the optics of it all to consider and the Alma Mater Society really couldn’t proceed with a new Student Union Building (SUB) without the input of the students they represent. Thus, we have a Student-Driven Decision-Making Process:

The ultimate authority for the project lies with the student body. In April 2008 UBC students approved the construction of a new Student Union Building through an AMS-run campus-wide referendum. AMS Student Council must obey the will of the student body.

The architect will be selected based on a combination of a student-wide vote and a vote by the AMS led New SUB Committee.

The three firms that receive the most votes will be asked to present detailed proposals outlining their services, mission statement, Sustainability Charter, and fees. The New SUB Team will make the final selection this summer, and design work will begin in September.

AMS, UBC

So, “students” get to vote for the shortlist and then The New SUB Team gets to decide the winner and the two runners-up in this beauty contest. Interesting.

In any event, “students” have only two days to vote for a shortlist of three firms that will be asked to develop more comprehensive plans.

Twenty-one firms initially expressed interest in the project. The New SUB team evaluated proposals based on past projects, commitment to sustainability, willingness to incorporate student input, and long-term vision for the building. Seven firms met our criteria. We are now asking students to select from this shortlist three firms that can deliver a student-focused and sustainable design for the future centerpiece of the UBC campus.

AMS, UBC

Oh, how I would hate to be part of one of the following architectural firms. To have to strut yourself like a contestant in a beauty pageant must be a bit, well, humbling, I suppose.

I’m acting as an architectural archivist here because I want these firms’ initial proposals to be recorded for posterity.

I know the work of most of the following teams. Many have staff members who graduated from UBC’s School of Architecture. With any luck, whoever wins will make a dramatic statement on a campus that I consider to be “under baked” (more about that below).

Here are the presentations from the seven firms. Unfortunately, two of them did not provide brochures to accompany their videos.

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BING THOM ARCHITECTS

BING THOM ARCHITECTS BROCHURE PDF

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BUNTING COADY ARCHITECTS

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BUSBY PERKINS+WILL

BUSBY PERKINS+WILL BROCHURE PDF

 

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CANNON DESIGN

CANNON DESIGN BROCHURE PDF

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HBBH+BH

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HENRIQUEZ PARTNERS ARCHITECTS / IBI GROUP

HENRIQUEZ PARTNERS ARCHITECTS / IBI GROUP BROCHURE PDF

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STANTEC ARCHITECTURE / 3XN

STANTEC ARCHITECTURE / 3XN BROCHURE PDF

 

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No Date: “Royal Canadian Air Force photograph of Canada’s youngest university”

ca 1958: Aerial view of campus looking northeast

Here’s a rant: the University of British Columbia is a suburban campus. Yes, it’s way out there on the edge of Vancouver on Point Grey, far away from the city centre (unlike, say, UoT or McGill). But, it also has a suburban feel to it because of its inordinate size and the space between buildings.

When the campus was being planned, an enormous clear-cut was at the disposal of the architects and planners. Rather than make a city of learning, they spread things out so widely that it can take more than forty minutes to walk from one edge of campus to another.

What’s more, there really doesn’t seem to be a centre to this agglomeration of buildings and parking lots.

That’s why the New SUB is so important; if done properly, it can act as a true hub that will be a catalyst for future infill developments.

The two photos above illustrate my point. UBC needs a compression of space and I’m hoping that the New SUB acts in this capacity.

1940: Brock Hall

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Looking at some of the seven firms’ proposals, it seems that they are unaware that the New SUB will be the third such building at UBC (Henriquez and Partners call their proposal “SUB2”).

In 1939, students provided nearly $80,000 build the university’s first student building.

It was named “Brock Memorial Hall” after the late Dean of Applied Science, Reginald W. Brock and his wife Mildred, who died in a 1935 airplane accident.

Brock Memorial Hall originally housed a main lounge, snack bar, Alma Mater Society offices, club rooms and a large committee room.

I am particularly fond of Thompson Berwick Pratt’s addition in 1956-57 and Lionel and Patricia Thomas’ mosaic, known as Symbols for Education, commissioned by the UBC Class of 1958 as their graduating gift to the University. Unveiled in 1959, it can still be seen near the northwest corner of Brock Hall. Lionel Thomas was one of Canada’s most distinguished artists and a member of the staff of the School of Architecture. The mural utilizes abstract symbols to represent the academic disciplines taught at UBC.

Mosaic at Brock Hall. Photo by Gavin Wilson, UBC Public Affairs

The 1991-93 addition by Poon Gardner Billington is best left unmentioned.

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DATE:

Original construction 1939-40

North wing (Brock Hall Annex) 1956-57

Student Services Centre 1991-93

ARCHITECTS:

1939-40 Sharp & Thompson

1956-57 Thompson Berwick Pratt

1991-93 Poon Gardner Billington

COST:

$9,735,000 total

SOURCES OF FUNDS:

1939-40: $80,000 (Donations from students, alumni, and the general public, money borrowed by Alma Mater Society, grant from UBC Board of Governors, Brock family)

1956-57: $335,000 (Loan supported by a continuation of the self-imposed annual $5 levy on all students, after the Memorial Gymnasium debt had been retired)

1991-93: $9,320,000 (UBC and B.C. government)

NAME HISTORY:

Dr. R.W. Brock, Dean of Applied Science and his wife Mildred, who both died in a plane crash in 1935.

USE HISTORY:

1940-67 student union building.

1967- UBC administration, including Student Services – original Brock Hall re-opened as UBC Welcome Centre in 2005.

ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES:

Annex – 3-storey concrete structure, grey glazed brick exterior finish.

Mosaic “Symbols of Education” on exterior of the Annex by UBC Architecture professor Lionel Thomas, first student-commissioned work of art on campus, unveiled October 1959. Each symbol represents an academic discipline and their arrangement suggests the inter-relationship of different areas of study.

NOTES:

Seriously damaged by fire in 1954. AMS immediately started a fund “Rebuild the Brock” and within six months the building was repaired at cost of $400,000 and re-opened.

October 1954: Fire damage to Brock Hall

SOURCES:

Thompson, Berwick, Pratt; Goodall

SOURCE:

UBC Library Archives

April 24, 1969: The new Student Union Building

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Brock Hall’s replacement is a tough building to love and yet I rather like it. Designed by Pratt, Lindgren, Snider (which won the commission in a national design competition held in 1966) and built during the turbulent sixties, it looks like an aboveground bunker that students could retreat into and lock the barricades when “the fuzz” retaliated with tear gas, etc., during campus demonstrations.

It’s a massive hulk of a building that seems to disregard human beings’ requirements for natural light. But, the copper-clad rooftop and its deck are beautiful hidden spaces.

What are the plans for this building after the New SUB is built? Demolishing it will require a substantial amount of explosives!

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DATE:

Original Construction: 1968

Additions: 1981, 1984

 

ARCHITECTS:

1968: Pratt, Lindgren, Snider

1981, 1984: Richard Henriquez and Partners

 

COST:

1968: $5 million

1981: $1.2 million

1984: $1.2 million

 

SOURCES OF FUNDS:

1968: 78% financed by a $15 per year levy paid by all students

 

ARCHITECTURAL FEATURES:

This building is considered as the product of the confrontational nature of the sixties with the usage of heavily treated, massive concrete walls.

 

CONSTRUCTION TYPE:

Concrete

 

NOTES:

The Old Stadium was demolished to make way for the construction of the Student Union Building when Brock Hall became too small to house all student activities. The building consists of a ballroom, small conference rooms, seminar rooms and club areas; special facilities include recreation area (pub, lounge), cultural area (art gallery auditorium), and commercial areas (coffee shop, food courts); also meeting rooms and general open space. Also contains a large food service facility. It is designed to be highly utilized by the undergraduate students. It is also extensively used for conferences and entertainment activities. A pub called “The Pit” is located in its basement.

 

SOURCE:

UBC Library Archives

1964: A.M.S. president Roger McAfee with a model of the proposed Student Union Building

196-: Warnett Kennedy shows A.M.S. President Roger McAfee plans for Student Union Building

1965: Prime Minister Lester Pearson turns sod for the new Student Union Building

1966: Sketch of proposed Student Union Building

1967: Construction of the Student Union Building

1967-68: Construction of the Student Union Building

1967-68: Construction of the Student Union Building

1971: Students on the lawn beside the Student Union Building

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I know which 3 I think would make a team of fierce competiors vying for the tiara, forcing UBC to finally have a showplace centrepiece and heart. An architectural masterpiece to rival Arthur Erickson‘s MOA or Bing Thom’s Chan Centre. The campus needs more wow! buildings.

For what they’re worth, here are my comments on the video presentations of the 7 semi-finalists in this beauty pageant:

Scoreboard

Bing Thom

9.5

Bing is one of my favourite architects and he just keeps getting better. He shows a very strong connection to the university in this emotional video with lots of “student-centric” touches. His work speaks for itself and he would be the obvious choice to design this important addition to the campus.
Bunting Coady

6.5

Talking heads + PowerPoint slides = boring. Compared with Bing Thom’s emotional appeal, this video doesn’t work. Nor do the very few images of the firm’s work convince me that this is the one to go with.  Looking at the video, it seems that the firm didn’t care enough to make an outstanding effort.
Busby Perkins+Will

8.5

Vancouver is very fortunate to count Peter Busby amongst its citizens. He has designed a great number of amazing buildings and should definitely be one of the 3 finalists. However, this video didn’t motivate or move me. Great selection of accomplishments, though. Another obvious choice.
Cannon Design

6.0

From the architects of Vancouver 2010’s Richmond Oval: “Good design improves cash flow.” “Open” this and “open” that. Huh? This video is a mess lacking a strong narrative and reason to “vote for us.” The images in this presentation don’t do much to inspire me. They needed a better director.
HBBH+BH

7.5

The “SUB Design Cube” seems like an innovative idea to me. “We see this building as directly analogous to a city.” Now we’re talking! UBC desperately needs to become more urban in form. However, if their recent horrendous carbuncular addition to the CBC building is any indication, I’d pass.
Henriquez Partners

7.5

The Sally Field of the 7 videos: “Our clients like us!” They really, really like us! My thoughts on this firm’s work are still unformed; Henriquez père has done some atrocious, fussy work in the past, yet remains a Vancouver icon. The son, however, is all about social justice.  They would be an interesting choice.
Stantec

7.0

Great visuals; pathetic audio. I’m intrigued by many of the buildings presented here, but what are they? Where are they? Overall, this may be the skimpiest of the 7 with regard to actual details. However, if they know how to design a beautiful, ecologically sensitive building, who knows?

UPDATE

This summer, the Alma Mater Society’s New SUB Team will pick one of these firms to design the building.

According to the AMS Web site, the new SUB will be located on the University Square between the current SUB and the UBC Aquatic Centre.

The five-storey, 250,000-square-foot building is expected to cost $110 million, with $25 million coming from the university and $85 million from student fees.

One of the project’s goals is to have the new SUB attain the LEED Platinum and Living Building certifications for sustainable design.

Following further student consultations, construction is slated to begin in 2012, and the new SUB will open in 2014.

In a 2008 referendum, UBC students approved a levy to contribute to the cost of building the new SUB.

– Stephen Hui, “Three architectural firms shortlisted to design new UBC Student Union Building,” The Georgia Straight, 17 April 2010

UPDATE: AND THE WINNER IS:

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