UBC student residences prioritize wellness, inclusivity, and sustainability

A series of five student residences at the University of British Columbia (UBC), tə šxʷhəleləm̓s tə k̓ʷaƛ̓kʷəʔaʔɬ (The Houses of the Ones Belonging to the Saltwater), address the importance of student wellness, inclusivity, and sustainable design through their dynamic programming, visual transparency, and context-responsive materiality.

Ryder Architecture (Ryder) and Hotson Architecture (Hotson) collaboratively designed the series on a campus situated on an idyllic peninsula at the western edge of Vancouver.

In spring 2021, The Musqueam Indian Band generously bestowed the names to UBC in their hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ language as a gift.

Considered an infill project, the seven- to ten-storey buildings and parkade span more than 33,993-m2 (365,900-sf). Using materials distinctly responsive to the West Coast, the residences bring a human-scaled approach to design with urban life.

The buildings are stitched together with understated landscape architecture, creating an urban streetscape along Student Union Boulevard, adjacent to the bus loop, ensuring a high degree of site safety, visibility, and accessibility.

Active ground-level student amenities and shared student spaces—often double-height and always filled with plenty of natural daylight—include lounges, study areas, fitness, music, and dance studios, and front desk administrative offices. These shared spaces offer numerous opportunities for both formal and informal social gatherings.

The material palette and consistent formal language of these mid-rise buildings enable the this series of residences to be broken down into individual blocks, facilitating visual and pedestrian connections to the campus, including the adjacent Walter Gage Residence precinct.

The ground floor features exterior wood soffits, which transition into interior ceiling treatments. Entries and communal spaces are “carved” from each building’s mass with recesses and cantilevers. The highly insulated wall assembly gives a greater sense of depth within the facade with angled metal accent panels that frame and accentuate the often-irregular fenestration pattern. This approach creates a unique and delightful effect, stretching the scale and expression of each building’s facade.

The white and dark iron-spot brick cladding of the curtain walls takes its cues from the existing brick buildings on campus. The choice of white and dark brick dramatically reflects light, depending on the weather and time of day. This effect is of particular delight to students and passersby since it captures even the slightest change in local light conditions, which are often overcast and rainy, given Vancouver’s West Coast climate.

In addition to targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification with a specific mandate to address greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and guided by the UBC Green Building Action Plan (GBAP), the design team adopted a rigorous approach to sustainability and environmental performance. Building performance was measured against projected climate scenarios for 2050 and 2080, with mitigation features such as a high-performance building envelope, active cooling, high-efficiency heat recovery ventilation, and connection to UBC’s district energy system. A 55 per cent reduction in building carbon emissions was targeted, compared to current local building practices.

The two firms led a digital design and construction process, leveraging Ryder’s in-house building information model (BIM) expertise to enable an accelerated schedule and allow the project to open ahead of schedule, with construction proceeding throughout the pandemic.

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