The Nest – Student Union Building at UBC

As Originally Seen in Award Magazine www.canadawide.com :



Vancouver’s University of British Columbia (UBC) has a new Student Union Building (SUB) sitting at the heart of its campus. The Nest, as it has been named, came about as a result of an intensive Integrated Design Process (IDP) that involved input from UBC students and various stakeholders, which plans to serve as a model for future developments at UBC.

This modern, five-storey, mixed-use building exhibits and promotes sustainable life through many elements of its structure, features and functions. Its distinctive form and character picks up on, and is responsive to, that of the adjacent buildings.

“The form of the eastern zinc cowl roof is reflective of the sloped copper roof of the old SUB roof, while the southerly Great Hall speaks to the form of the historic War Memorial Gym to the east,” explains Joost Bakker, lead architect from DIALOG that joined forces with B+H Architects for this project.

“The strong vertical treatment of windows and Taktl panelling on the Nest creates a character sympathetic to both the strong verticality of the concrete buttressed existing SUB and the refined vertical frit glass patterning of the new Alumni Building to the south.”



The five-storey west atrium features a sawtooth roof of glulam trusses and CLT panels.

Exposed wood, breathtaking views and the Nest Lounge characterize this space. The lounge is open air and stands on three slender steel columns that make it appear to be floating in the middle of the space. The east atrium provides a quiet escape with a beautiful glass staircase and four-storey high, boomerang shaped glulam columns.

Strategically placed on the south side of the building, the great hall plaza sits between existing and future bus loops and can provide shelter for transit users on rainy days. The Nest also hosts the governing Alma Mater Society (AMS) and its services, various club rooms, rentable spaces, offices, a theatre, an art gallery, a daycare and broadcast facilities.

Cast-in-place concrete was utilized for the U-shaped structural floor plates, while FSC-sourced wood and structural steel were used and left exposed for the SUB’s large open spaces. Portland Limestone Cement (PLC) was used for all concrete work – a category of cement that permits the inter-grinding of linker with up to 15 per cent of limestone.

“Traditionally five per cent has been the maximum permitted,” says Damien Stoneham, associate with Read Jones Christoffersen (RJC) and project engineer on the SUB. “PLC can be used with Supplementary Cementitious Materials (SCM) and can further decrease carbon dioxide emissions by up to 10 per cent when compared to regular General Use (GU) Portland Cement.”



Since UBC’s newest addition is targeting LEED Platinum, sustainability and energy efficiency are evident throughout the building’s design.

“The primary heating source for the building is from extracting the heat from the low temperature return condensate system, which is the by-product of UBC’s district steam system,” states Alex Chou, mechanical engineer on the project from AME Consulting Group Ltd. “By drawing heat from the condensate system, the condensate water temperature going back to the UBC steam plant is lower, resulting in higher efficiency.”

Cooling the building without the use of mechanical cooling while satisfying thermal comfort was one challenge. A cutting-edge Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) model ensured that the temperature remained within the standard for thermal comfort. A unique type of chiller was installed to provide cooling to specific areas.

“Working with the mechanical and electrical consultants, we designed the atrium roof for solar hot water and for future solar PV loading,” says RJC’s Stoneham. “We also worked very closely with the mechanical consultants to incorporate hydronic heating and cooling into the structural slabs.”

Moreover, solar thermal and photovoltaic arrays, passive ventilation and daylight harvesting in most spaces all contribute to supplying 30 per cent of total energy consumption. “We designed a metering system that provides energy consumption information at the room level,” states Sunny Ghataurah, electrical engineer on the project from Applied Engineering Solutions Ltd. “The intent is that users of a space can see how much energy they are consuming so that they can modify their behaviours to achieve the intent of energy reduction on campus.”

The biggest impact on site, however, was monitoring and maintaining the Indoor Air Quality Plan throughout construction, explains Duane Ferreira, project manager at Bird Construction: “We used low-VOC emitting products that kept the air cleaner for workers and reduced the heavy smells associated with some painting, adhesive and caulking activities.”

Keeping the Nest in good working order for the long-term involves preventative measures as well. Vancouver’s climate makes using a leak detection and moisture monitoring system very beneficial to locate roof leaks before costly water damage occurs. “There are two such systems installed in the Nest,” explains Pat Vokey, VP at Detec Systems.”  The first system is for conventional roofs and is placed under the membrane, while the second system is for the inverted roofs and is placed on the surface of the membrane.”

For the students and other Nest users, there are more visible sustainability efforts. “The students wished for a building that supports a model community and that sustainably promotes human contact and inspiration,” says Bakker.



While there are many areas for students to study, there are also several ways to take a break at the Nest. The first is a three-storey climbing wall on the north side of the building. Full height glazing allows a motivational view of English Bay and the North Shore mountains from the top of the wall.

A fair-weather visit to the 10,750-square-foot rooftop garden on the fourth level of the Nest can help too. It includes a water feature, ample seating and a crop area where AMS will be growing organic produce that will be used in the Nest’s food venues.

“From the design team selection process that involved a student-wide vote based on YouTube videos of architect presentations, to the development of the design guidelines, sustainability targets and schematic approach through a series of open workshops, the students have been fully and creatively engaged in the design process,” says Bakker. “Student engagement was key to our success.”

our subsidiaries

The Nest – Student Union Building At Ubc : News & Media : Bird Construction