With their late-1960s Student Union Building bursting at the seams, students at the University of British Columbia embarked on an emphatically democratic plan of action. UBC’s student union, the Alma Mater Society (AMS), conducted a referendum in which the university’s students voted to replace the existing building with a much larger one. Proponents on a UBC-prequalified list presented their design approaches to the students in YouTube videos, and they selected our team to design a building that would house club rooms, support programs, study spaces, bookable rooms, a rentable Great Hall, and student-operated food, beverage and retail services. UBC’s students were both the clients and the end users on what would be known as the AMS Student Nest, and they wanted the building to be ecologically, socially and financially sustainable.
The Nest’s five-storey central atrium, known as the Agora, faces toward the Knoll, a popular outdoor gathering space for UBC students over the decades. Terraced seating and stairs sweep across the Agora’s two lowest levels, extending the curves of the Knoll into the building. Generous stairs connect all levels of the atrium, enhancing the sense of community and inclusiveness.
To ensure that the students would have their say in the design of their building, our team set up a satellite design office in the old student union building, created a Facebook page for the project, and conducted 20 public charrettes and workshops.
Central to the student’s aspirations were the ideals of empowerment, advocacy, accessibility, diversity, sustainability and community. Their input led us to conceive the Nest a focal point of interaction and engagement that would be a comfortable home away from home – in essence, a miniature ‘city’ that is as welcoming as a living room.