UBC campus a city in itself, in process of complete transformation

If you have not ventured onto the University of British Columbia’s Vancouver Westside campus recently, the amount of construction and transformation the campus is currently undergoing may surprise you. Students currently attending UBC have even dubbed themselves the “Class of Construction” given the inconveniences of the ongoing construction detours made across campus – from the gutting and beautifying of pedestrian pathways with water features to the construction of new academic buildings to the rise of entire new residential communities for thousands of people.

Geographically, at 993 acres or 4 square kilometres, UBC’s campus on the westernmost tip of the Vancouver peninsula is nearly as big as Downtown Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Next to this site is a even larger swath of land and although it was completely logged and clearcut 70 years ago, the trees have since regrown and a ecosystem has returned; the campus is now surrounded by 2,000 acres of dense forest, now better known as Pacific Spirit Park. Altogether, this forms much of the 3,000 acres of the University Endowment Lands in Vancouver Point Grey that were given to UBC in 1908 when the institution was founded.

It was the intention of the provincial government the Endowment Lands would be used as a revenue stream for the creation of British Columbia’s greatest university, that UBC would develop the lands into an urban “University city in an idyllic setting” and generate revenue that will finance its establishment, sustain its future growth, and fulfill its academic ambitions. While UBC no longer has the use of the endowment lands that are now deemed as a part of Pacific Spirit Park, the potential of the remaining developable 993 acres is still immense for the use of financing the University’s future.

The institution’s Vancouver campus has an enrolment of over 40,000 students in addition to nearly 10,000 faculty and staff. It has more than 9,000 student housing beds, more than any other Canadian university, and plans to add an additional 2,125 beds by 2016. This, of course, does not even include the existing and new dense residential communities (a current permanent residential population rapidly climbing over 10,000) that have been sprouting across campus in the form of market housing, rental suites, as well as non-market units for faculty, staff, and students. Altogether, this also demands for additional hospitality, commercial, recreational, and academic space.

The scope of UBC’s needs, its rapid growth and development, and sheer geographical size has even demanded the institution to create its own Campus and Community Planning Office to plan and manage its growth (urban planning offices are most commonly found in municipal governments). UBC’s transit demand is enormous and the campus is the natural geographical terminus for many of the region’s east-west bus routes. In total, 15 bus routes serve the campus. At peak hours, buses arrive and leave the main bus loop every single minute.

Hidden away and tucked off onto the western end of the city behind a dense forest barrier, the scale of UBC’s developments may surprise you. All new developments and projects are also tied into UBC’s sustainability commitments and its aim to create a diverse, vibrant, dense and open urban community.

Equally important are the University’s academic ambitions. Over the last two decades, it has climbed quickly up world rankings and was most recently named 25th globally in the 2012 Times Higher Education Reputation Rankings. UBC has a goal to be not only Canada’s best university but also among the world’s greatest. However, housing affordability is UBC’s greatest challenge in fulfilling this mission. Due to Vancouver’s high housing and living costs, it has great difficulty in recruiting, retaining, and competing for the world’s brightest scholars to establish a world-class faculty. Setting aside non-market on-campus housing options for its faculty members is part of UBC’s goals, in addition to rapidly building more student housing to guarantee a bed can be offered to every first-year student and to allow more students to experience the on-campus student life.

Given demand and future growth, and the creation of a dense “University city” community, UBC’s significance as one of Metro Vancouver’s largest destinations and employment centres is just one of several reasons why the underground Broadway extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line must terminate at the campus.


UBC Gage South Zone

The brunt of these planned campus physical changes are located largely at the institution’s central hub in an area called “UBC Gage South.” Construction to complete the Gage South masterplan has only now just begun. Gage South is UBC’s busiest area and has earned its centrality and importance because of its compact location of student amenities and services such as the Student Union Building (SUB), the Aquatic Centre, and the Student Recreation Centre. The area’s importance and high pedestrian traffic flow can also be largely attributed to the campus bus loop located in the area.

The entire Gage South area will be entirely reconfigured to include (1) a new Student Union Building, (2) a new and expanded Aquatic Centre with an additional third competition pool, (3) a new Alumni Centre, (4) a relocated and expanded bus loop, (5) non-market rental housing (for students, faculty, and staff), (6) and a new concert/playing field. The new playing field, or what might be more widely known as the new MacInnes Field, is wedged between for buildings at each of its four sides and will give UBC  the traditional “Campus Quad” found at many other universities.

Aerial photo of the existing UBC Gage South area, which shows ongoing construction of the new SUB building on the bottom left (photo by Google Maps):


UBC Gage South Future Masterplan (Image source: VIA Architecture):


The new UBC Student Union Building (SUB)

At the core of many university campuses is a building that houses many of the institutions student services, activities, and hospitality spaces. Currently under construction in this central campus area is UBC’s new and expanded Student Union Building (SUB). The $103-million project is an expansion of the existing 1968-built SUB and is largely funded by a hike in student tuition.

The existing SUB has been deemed to be grossly inefficient to serve the needs of the university’s 40,000+ students. The new expansion building will be 250,000 square feet in size, an increase of fifty-percent over the current SUB, over five-storeys and will include over 32,000 square feet of social and recreation space, 25,000 square feet of bookable space, 30,000 square feet of club office space, and over 40,000 square feet of food and retail. When complete, the new building will even include a $50,000 slide to allow people to slide down from floor to floor, similar to such slides found at other universities and office buildings including the Google headquarters.

The new expansion SUB will open in September 2014, in time for the new school year, and the existing old SUB building will be closed for several months to undergo extensive renovations for conversion into uses such as additional study areas for students and club spaces. (Image Source: B+H Architects)


Other major new UBC buildings and projects

Many other major construction projects are ongoing elsewhere on campus, and are largely evident by where construction cranes can be seen. Among them is the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health, an expansion of UBC Hospital. The $69-million, six-storey hospital expansion will unite research and patient care in the fields of psychology, neurology, and neuroscience. The new Centre will be completed later this year. (Image credit: UBC Public Affairs)


Over the last few years, many other academic, research, and recreational buildings have been built, including the recently completed award-winning $155-million UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences Building. Other recently completed major buildings over the last two-years include (but do not exclude):

In addition, Canada’s first on-campus skate park located at Thunderbird Blvd and Health Sciences Mall will be completed next month. The MLS Vancouver Whitecaps have also decided to build a $32-million National Soccer Development Centre at UBC. It will be home to the training grounds of the Whitecaps, Canadian national teams, and the UBC Thunderbirds.


UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences Building – $155-million (Image credit: Saucier + Perrotte Architectes / Hughes Condon Marler Architects)

UBC Pharmaceutical building

UBC Pharmaceutical building


UBC Allard Hall (Law Building) – $56-million (Image credit: UBC Law)


UBC Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre and Beaty Biodiversity Museum (Vancouver’s only Natural History Museum) – $50-million (Image credit: UBC Public Affairs)


UBC Centre for Interactive Research and Sustainability (North America’s “greenest” building) – $37-million (Image credit: UBC Public Affairs)


UBC Earth Systems Science Building – $73-million (Image credit: Perks + Will Architects)


UBC Tennis Centre – $15-million (Image credit: Heatherbrae)


UBC Totem Park Student Residence Expansion – $50-million (Image credit: PWL Partnership)


National Soccer Development Centre (MLS Vancouver Whitecaps) – $32-million (Image credit: UBC)

National Soccer Development Centre at UBC


UBC Multi-Use Skate Park – $1.6-million (Image credit: UBC)


UBC Ponderosa Housing District

One other notable development project on campus is the UBC Ponderosa District. The complex is being built in two phases, with the first phase slated for completion summer 2013 and the second phase in 2015. At $168-million, it has been billed as one of UBC’s most expensive construction projects. Altogether, it will add 1,100 beds of student housing to the campus in towers as tall as 17-storeys. At the base of the towers will be classrooms, lecture halls, informal learning spaces, public spaces, a fitness centre, cafe, restaurant, and even a large grocery store (to be determined: either an IGA Marketplace, No-Frills, or Price Smart). This will be the first campus development that merges student housing with academic space and hospitality usages in an attempt to create a more lively area at the core of the campus. (Image source: UBC Campus and Community Planning)

UBC Wesbrook Village

In the 1980s, UBC began to test the full development potential of its University Endowment Lands as a means of generating revenue to sustain itself and finance its growth. This began with the development of what would later be known as Hampton Place, generating $81-million for the University. Due to the success of Hampton Place, it was decided that additional neighbourhoods with a mix of housing options, retail, parks, and amenities would be built across campus. At completion, these developments will generate $1-billion in revenue for the University over the course of 20 years of construction.

The most significant of these endowment land developments is the massive and brand new UBC Wesbrook Village community on the southern end of the campus, to be home to 12,000 people at full completion (market housing; senior housing; non-market housing for students, faculty, and staff) in the form of tall high-rises to mid-rises. It is also the site of the second retail village on campus, most notably (at least for students) the new location of the campus liquor store and Vancouver’s second Save-On-Foods supermarket location.

UBC Wesbrook Village has been a planned neighbourhood since the 1990s. It was the first location considered for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Village, the large residential complex that houses the world’s athletes. Today, Wesbrook Village has cost UBC’s private contracted developers $1-billion to build. This 115-acre neighbourhood will be complete with over 37-acres of parks and green spaces, and has been designed with “green streets” – a extensive network of pathways as an alternative network for pedestrian travel through the new neighbourhood. The community’s park space is largely centred around 6 new major parks, each with a children’s playground and even soccer fields, baseball diamonds, water play areas and tennis courts. Westbrook Village is also home to the new and expanded University Hill high-school. A 30,000 square foot community centre and a second on-campus elementary school is also planned for the future, both to be built adjacent to the high-school. (Image source: UBC Campus and Community Planning)


UBC Block F Lands – Musqueam Development

A 22-acre parcel of forest, a part of UBC’s Pacific Spirit Regional Park, was given to the Musqueam Indian Band as part of the provincial government’s 2008 Reconciliation Agreement. The site is bounded by University Boulevard and Acadia Road. The Musqueam Band intends to develop the site into a vibrant mixed-used community for 3,000-5,000 people (in the form of a combination of mid-rises and high-rises) with a retail village and a 120-room hotel. Construction is expected to begin in 2014. (Image source: Langara Voice)


UBC Public Realm Beautification

The brunt of recent temporary construction inconveniences for students has been from the University’s $46-million plan to update its public spaces and network of passageways. This Public Realm Project has a goal of animating and bringing life back to the campus and instilling a pride and a strong sense of place that showcases the culture of UBC.

This project is still under construction across campus and includes elements that will improve night time lighting for pedestrians, convert vehicular roads for exclusive pedestrian use, new street furniture, new planting and greenery, new water features including water fountains, improved passageway drainage and replacing pavement with bricked surfaces. (Image source: UBC Campus and Planning)



Also READ PART 1 OF THIS ARTICLE, which includes architectural renderings of the original 1912 and 1914 UBC Point Grey campus designs: “Renaissance Italy or the original vision for the UBC campus?” 


Written and researched by Kenneth Chan, a Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Follow Kenneth on Twitter: @kjmagine

Featured image credit: VIA Architecture