“DIALOG and B+H Architects collaboratively translate student-driven design ideas into AMS Nest, setting the benchmark for publicly engaged design with this new, sustainable center. The return of students to UBC coincides with the highly anticipated opening of the AMS Nest – a new 250,000 square foot, LEED Platinum student union building.
The five-storey, $107M student union building designed by DIALOG and B+H Architects received 75% of its funding from the students, resulting in a unique design process where the union took on the role of client, and student engagement became the driving factor from proponent selection through to construction. The outcome of this heavily collaborative process is a sustainable, democratic hub and campus centerpiece that serves as a testament to student life and engagement while establishing a new standard for contemporary, institutional design.
“Students from all over the world attend UBC. It was incredibly important for us that the built space be meaningful and comfortable; a space that would create a sense of place for the students and improve the quality of life on campus through design,” explains Joost Bakker, leader of the joint DIALOG and B+H efforts.
“We’re incredibly proud of the architectural design. It is a contemporary solution and the students love it. Our hope is that the AMS Nest becomes a benchmark for what can be achieved through innovative collaboration,” adds Kevin Stelzer, principal at B+H Architects.
Through a student-driven design competition, independent from the university, DIALOG and B+H Architects were selected as the winning team based on their collective experience delivering community-centred designs. Engaging with students via a social-media, YouTube and poster campaign actively exploring the design process was necessary to fully capture student voices.
In addition, DIALOG and B+H hosted eighteen collaborative workshops to provide an ongoing platform for students to express their goals and collective vision for the site. Fostering a transparent and engaging process, a pop-up glass cubicle, the “Design Cube”, was erected in the old student union building, allowing open communication and student consensus during the 4-year process.
Sustainable building features include a high-performance cladding system and triple glazing to ensure low energy consumption, resulting in the SUB using a fraction of the energy of a conventional building. A high-performance solar roof produces energy and heat, as well as cooling.
To nurture economic sustainability, the multi-purpose site houses a myriad of functions from student club rooms, food and beverage, retail, daycare, meeting rooms, a 3-storey indoor climbing wall and a multi-purpose event space. The student-run pub and eatery program, one of the union’s main revenue drivers, even utilizes products grown directly on the building’s green roof.
Ensuring it would remain future-proof was a priority and many aspects of the design are moveable, reconfigurable, de/reconstructible systems to allow flexibility to respond to short-term changes (hours, days, months, etc). Durable materials and non-prescriptive elements allow for adaptation to occur over longer timescales. The skillful combination of the two provides a robust and nimble capacity to respond to the challenges of designing for unknowable futures.
In terms of social sustainability and establishing a distinct sense of place, the AMS Nest’s site is strategically programmed to respond to the campus mater plan, and tailored to integrate the existing and iconic grassy “knoll” on UBC’s campus. Rich woods, and warm materials define the interior palate, while the layout is centered on a classical “agora” as a nod to the building’s democratic design process.