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UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 8 | Aug. 4, 2005

Campus to Integrate History, Culture, Sustainability

First Nations inspired Gathering Place proposed at entrance

By Ai Lin Choo

Picture standing in a glass-walled atrium surrounded by panoramic snapshots of expansive grassland, pine forest and red brick buildings -- infused with a sense of local history and culture.

This is the vision guiding design principles and planning at UBC’s new Okanagan campus.

As the university gears up to welcome its first class in September and meet projections that will see it triple in size and serve more than 7,500 students by 2010, administrators from both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses have been working non-stop to put together an ambitious plan that will transform the existing campus into a cultural and sustainable landscape.

“This campus master plan has a rather unusual mandate in that we’re trying to achieve all these goals over the next five years. New buildings and facilities are going to have to be constructed and expand rather quickly in order to cater to our growing student body,” says Aidan Kiernan, UBC Okanagan Associate Vice-President Operations.

The school emerges as one of two new post-secondary institutions in the region. In early July, Okanagan University College (OUC) turned over its grounds to make way for UBC Okanagan at its former North Kelowna campus, and Okanagan College in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Salmon Arm.

The landscape and design plan detail the construction of new research, recreational and cultural facilities at the new university. Kiernan explains that development will build on existing cleared areas of the campus to preserve non-developed pristine land.

New buildings will also feature spectacular views of the Okanagan hillsides, and reflect First Nations’ land use.

“We want people to have no question in their minds that they are in the Okanagan,” he says. “The idea is to bring the outdoors in and create an intimate learning environment for students while establishing a world-class university that is distinctive in academic programs, responsive to the needs of the Okanagan, and yet complementary with UBC Vancouver.”

The campus master plan was developed following extensive consultation with the City of Kelowna, First Nations groups, and student and academic groups in the Okanagan. Its principles are guided by the university’s academic plan (see page 6), which envisions a campus that emphasizes four major research themes - indigenous studies, sustainability, health and wellness and creativity, and culture and community.

Details are now in their final stages, and the plan is expected to go before the UBC Board of Governors for approval late September.

The first proposed feature that visitors will see as they pass through the main gates is a circular, open-air structure called the Gathering Place, says Marta Farevaag of Vancouver-based Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, the primary consulting firm on the project.

The idea for a Gathering Place arose out of consultation with First Nations groups as a way of reflecting traditional Okanagan Nation symbols such as the circle.

The large structure, which will be available for special events and student use, is a huge opportunity for a greater understanding of indigenous cultures and peoples, says Westbank First Nations Chief Robert Louie.

“That’s missing right now in the valley,” he says. “We are anticipating it will become a focal point. Access to education about our culture is extremely important. It’s important for people to know about the land and how we came to have a society here.”

In July 2004, the Board of Governors approved an approximate $20 million construction plan, funded by the B.C. government to expand OUC’s research and learning facilities. Expansion to existing arts and science buildings will be completed before the school’s first cohort arrives this September, and construction of two new 180-bed residences has already begun.

Additionally, the new campus will rely on geothermal sources to heat and cool the campus, and optimize solar opportunities and natural ventilation.

Buildings will also be LEED certified - a rating system that evaluates buildings that incorporate design, construction and operations to reduce environmental impact in categories such as transit access, water efficiency, energy efficiency, resource efficiency and indoor environmental quality.

“The idea is to create a showpiece of urban sustainability,” says Farevaag. “The Okanagan landscape has become stressed and fragile over the years. What we found important was to create a cohesive campus that would have a sense of place, while ensuring development is compact and engaging.”

Farevaag’s award winning planning, urban design and landscape architectural firm has been working in the Okanagan for many years, and recently won a nation-wide competition to design and construct a memorial in honour of Canada’s military veterans on the grounds of the Ontario Legislature.

Kiernan says the main goal of the plan is to establish a student-oriented campus that will build on the existing community and create a distinctive feel and sense of belonging.

“Ultimately, what we’re trying to accomplish is a campus that attracts people from all over the world, that encourages people to live on campus, and that offers the kinds of campus experiences that make for a world-class university,” says Kiernan.

“What we’re saying is that if you want to strive for excellence, you have to provide an environment that embodies excellence as well.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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