Creating a unique student hub

The UBC Student Union Building is a showcase of innovation
Monday, November 21, 2016
by Cheryl Mah

Most new students arriving on a campus university for the first time can be overwhelmed: the sheer size of the university, the maze of different buildings and masses of people moving about. At the University of B.C., a new Student Union Building (SUB) is creating a welcoming centre for students, alumni and visitors alike to the campus.

Designed by Dialog in joint venture with B+H Architects, the 250,000 square foot building replaces the existing SUB at the heart of the campus on University Square. Acting as a community hub, it provides new, vibrant spaces to support student engagement, studying, clubs and societies.

The original SUB was built more than 40 years ago and was no longer able to meet the needs of the growing student population, which stands at more than 48,000. In 2008, UBC students approved the construction of a new SUB building through an incremental levy on future student fees. The $85 million contribution is the largest single donation in UBC’s history.

Bird Construction broke ground on the $110 million project in 2012 and completed it in 33 months. At peak, manpower was approximately 250, according to project manager Duane Ferreira.

The four-storey building plus mechanical features eight new food and beverage services on level one including a redesigned Pit Pub (well known student hangout). The upper three levels contain a mixture of rentable spaces, club rooms and Alma Mater Society (AMS) administration and executive offices. At the roof level, there is also an 11,000 square foot garden, and a daycare. One of the more unique amenities will be a three-storey climbing wall.

The centrepiece of the new Student Union building is the Nest, a two storey structure that “floats” in the middle of the five storey atrium, balanced on three main, slender steel support columns and beams. It contains theatrical performance space on the second floor and a student lounge on the third floor.

Approximately 15,735 cubic metres of concrete and more than 700 tons of structural steel were used for the building. A high amount of wood was also incorporated, especially in the ceiling. The atrium’s saw-tooth roof is built from glulam beams and cross laminated timber panels as well as the pedestrian bridge walkways.

Another unique feature is the 6,000 square foot Great Hall that cantilevers off the concrete structure on the south side. It consists of 30 foot trusses, weighting 80 tons each. The space will be used for banquets, entertainment and other events.

“It’s a massive two storey space that is supported by a concrete column and three large steel trusses – two weigh 80 tons and the shorter one on the south side is 30 tons,” says Ferreira, noting the size of the trusses meant they had to be assembled on site before being put in place.

Equally impressive are the floating stairs installed throughout the building which are supported by embeds including 40-foot-long HSS beams.

The exterior envelope is a mixture of curtainwall glazing and high performance TAKTL concrete panels. It’s the first time the panels are being used in B.C. and possibly Canada, according to Ferreira.

Challenges on the project included the large number of stakeholders, a constrained site and the unique design.

“The biggest challenge is the uniqueness of the building,” says Ferreria. “Everywhere you go there’s something different – definitely not a typical building – so it’s been very challenging working out the details.”

The new building is bordered by the existing SUB to the north, the aquatic centre to the east and a new building to the south, leaving very little lay down area available. A just in time delivery strategy was required to ensure minimal amount of deliveries and storage on site, says Ferreira, which required significant coordination.

Another feature of the project is the small grassy tree covered knoll on the west side, which has been incorporated into the building design as a seating area, making it a key feature of the atrium and a social hub for the facility.

Keeping the knoll intact during construction was a challenge though, says Ferreira. “The access to build on that side was very limited.”

Also key to the design concept was to pursue the highest level of sustainable building design. The project was developed with an innovative student engagement and collaboration process (ie. social media) where a sustainable and regenerative design was identified as a priority by the students. Targeting LEED Platinum, the new SUB features many green strategies including rainwater harvesting, daylighting, passive ventilation, a high performance building envelope and solar hot water.

Ferreira credits collaboration and teamwork for the successful outcome and says the challenging project is one he “won’t forget for a long time.”

The UBC Student Union Building won Bird Construction the coveted 2016 Gold VRCA Award for a general contractor over $45 million. Other VRCA winners on this project include JSV Architectural Veneering & Millwork Inc., Wesbridge Steelworks Limited and Structurlam Products LP.

Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Construction Business Magazine.

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