One tree changes everything. In late winter, when the new Social Sciences and Mathematics Building’s tenants (from the departments of Geography, Political Science, Environmental Studies and Math) moved in, their surroundings were still pretty bleak. Construction crews were still cleaning up and the landscaping hadn’t started.
Then came the day when the first Garry oak was planted in the soil of the centre courtyard.
“Everyone was at their windows, watching,” remembers Ken Josephson, a cartographer in the Geography Department. “It was quite captivating for people.” From that point, the place started to take on a new energy.
Tour the building today and what comes through is its integration with the environment—literally and figuratively, from the ground to the roof.
While native plants and trees thrive outside, wood salvaged from BC’s mountain pine beetle infestation gives the structure its most unique environmental and aesthetic qualities. In the atrium, the building’s main public space, a series of dramatic wood columns curve like tree branches to support the roof.
It’s the first major building to be completed with mountain pine beetle timber in BC. The Olympic speed skating oval, under construction in Richmond, is also using pine beetle wood.
“The integration of mountain pine beetle wood is an important feature. It essentially responds to a natural disaster,” says Christine Lintott, lead architect of the $37.7-million project. “We wanted to be creative in such a way that it has value. This building should be showcased along with the oval to say, this is a viable option. Good on the university for letting us do it.”
Josephson, who served for four years as the point-person for the user groups, the architects and the builders, says the new structure is the result of “participatory design.” It incorporates the needs and ideas of the people who now use the valuable addition of teaching and learning space.
In one example, the design of the building’s native plant gardens reflects an original sketch by School of Environmental Studies Prof. Nancy Turner, BSc ’69. The school’s long-term goal is to use the gardens—which incorporate bog and marsh wetlands, Garry oak uplands, riparian habitat and coastal bluffs—for courses and student projects.
Two “green” roofs and several smaller patios are “participants in the local ecosystem,” says Lintott. Wild strawberries and sedums provide ground cover, while small vine maples and sumac trees are taking root.
The rooftop greenery helps to filter rainwater and minimize run-off into the storm drain system. In summer, they have the added benefit of absorbing heat.
Throughout the 9,090 square-metre building, meeting spaces are designed to be flexible, with sliding walls to expand or divide rooms. Air flows naturally—there’s no “canned air”—and each occupant can micromanage his or her climate. The four large lecture theatres provide fresh air from beneath each seat.
Above all, natural lighting fills the structure. “I’ll go by at different times of day and no one puts their lights on…what a compliment,” says Lintott, who calls the building a “centre-piece for sustainability. I think we’re in a paradigm shift in terms of how buildings are getting built. We’re not building disposable buildings anymore.”
Now Open | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5