Vancouver, British Columbia

Iconic designs don't always make good places. Photogenic buildings that assert themselves as individual landmarks may ignore their context and fail to enhance the public realm. Yet the University of British Columbia (UBC) Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Centre for Drug Research and Development, a new 275,870-square-foot research, teaching, and office facility, succeeds on both individual and community levels. Designed by Saucier + Perrotte Architectes (S+P) of Montreal with Hughes Condon Marler Architects (HCMA) of Vancouver, it's already famous for the Cubist collage of glass volumes that animates its west facade. The entire structure, intended to promote creativity and collaboration among its 790 students and 55 faculty members, provides UBC with a state-of-the-art building worthy of its international reputation. And it transforms a nondescript corner of the campus into a prominent gateway.

UBC occupies 1,005 acres eight miles west of downtown Vancouver and serves almost 50,000 students. Its architecture ranges from Collegiate Gothic to an International Style of concrete, brick, and glass. The campus enjoys a natural setting of breathtaking beauty on a wooded promontory overlooking the Strait of Georgia'but not on its lackluster southeast edge, where the pharmacy school occupies a 2-acre site. Yet the building more than fulfills new campus guidelines intended to increase density, strengthen a sense of place, and promote design quality. Its powerful rectangular form, cantilevered over a recessed ground floor, anchors a busy intersection and a well-traveled pedestrian path. It also frames outdoor space and displays its academic activities in a highly transparent, signature work, whose taut glass skin'in six shades from clear to black'provides a suave counterpoint to a banal parking garage next door and the trio of red-brick masses across the road that house the life-sciences department.

Saucier + Perrotte and HCMA articulated the building's program by looking to nature. 'The idea of a root system growing over time into a tree with an extensive network of branches serves as an allegory for the development of modern medicine,' says S+P design principal Gilles Saucier. 'The image of two trees and their foliage, fused and intertwined, provided the conceptual underpinning of the building.'

In trying to link the metaphor of trees to a sleek glass enclosure, Saucier urges you to 'think of the image of two trees with overlapping canopies. Then visualize this image pixelated, transforming the organic shape of the foliage into a more Cartesian geometry.' (You have to squint a bit, but it works.)

The pixelated geometry reaches its climax on the iconic west facade, where the planar glass curtain wall that clads the other facades explodes into a sculpture of cantilevered cubes. This tectonic tour de force overlooks a plaza whose abstract design extends the building's ground plane into the landscape with concrete and wood benches meant to evoke tree roots. Above, the glazed cubes contain seminar rooms, some clad in mirrored glass, which will reflect foliage at the opposite end of the plaza once the trees have grown tall enough.

The tree analogy serves as a placemaking exercise inside as well, where a monumental public space on the ground floor makes the organic parti palpable. There, within the pharmaceutical center's sleek glass enclosure, the metaphorical tree roots are tilted planes of rough, board-formed concrete, resawn cedar planks, and black glass, which dramatically heave up from a polished concrete floor. The cedar planks extend upward to cover skewed ceiling planes and parapets edging two obliquely shaped atriums. Concrete elevator cores are painted black, as are steel stairs leading to a mezzanine surrounded by a black glass railing. Recessed theater entrances, painted bright yellow, provide relief from the otherwise somber palette.

The amorphous space around the theaters is a lively if dimly lit student commons with a caf' and an exhibition on the history of medicines, elegantly installed in vitrines and wall panels. With entrances on all four sides and an envelope of clear glass, this dynamic and densely textured public space can be easily seen by passing pedestrians.

High above, the 'tree trunks' grow into two light wells that naturally illuminate the interior. Cubic white 'treehouses' of fritted glass and crisply detailed wall panels contain laboratories for pharmaceutical research and development. Offices and meeting rooms are placed at the perimeter, like branches and foliage. 'The difficulty of this project,' Saucier notes wryly, 'was knowing when to stop referring to the transformation of trees, because, of course, in the end it's about the spaces.' Luminous circulation paths wrap around the skylit atriums in an arrangement that provides, according to HCMA managing principal Roger Hughes, 'spaces for chance encounters and cross-pollination of ideas.'

Metaphors don't always yield good architecture, but Saucier's building-as-trees is surprisingly and subtly successful. Its elegant glass volume gives the site a much-needed dose of urbanity, enlivening the pedestrian paths and open space that surround it while showcasing its functions in the highly articulated interior. If the finishes used on the ground floor to elaborate the metaphor create a rather lugubrious effect, apparently it hasn't dampened the spirits of the students and faculty. 'I love it,' says one undergraduate. 'It's our building.' Proof of their enthusiasm is the student-performed lip-dub video 'It's Always a Good Time''a bouncy, dance-along tour of the new UBC building that anyone can check out on YouTube.

James Gauer is an architect based in Victoria, B. C., and the author of The New American Dream: Living Well in Small Homes.

Completion Date: September 2012

Size: 275,870 square feet

Total construction cost: $90.5 million


University of British Columbia (UBC) Properties Trust

Saucier + Perrotte architectes
7043 Waverly
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Tel: 514.273.1700

Hughes Condon Marler Architects (HCMA)
Suite 300
1508 West 2nd Ave
Vancouver BC
Canada V6J 1H2
Tel: 604 732 6620

Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Architectural concept and design: Gilles Saucier (S+P)

Managing principals: André Perrotte (S+P), Roger Hughes (HCMA)

Project architect: Bill Uhrich (HCMA) / Craig Lane (HCMA)

Design coordinator: David Moreaux (S+P)

Design and Construction team:
Patrice Begin (S+P), Darryl Condon (HCMA), Charles-Alexandre Dubois (S+P), Dominique Dumais (S+P), Nicko Elliott (S+P), Paul Fast (HCMA), Melissa Higgs (HCMA), Olivier Krieger (S+P), Rachel Lacey (HCMA), Joel Legault (S+P), Charles Leman (HCMA), Kourosh Mahvash (HCMA), Yutaro Minagawa (S+P), Greg Neudorf (S+P), Carl-Jan Rupp (HCMA), Marc-André Tratch (S+P), Craig West (HCMA), Eli Wolpin (HCMA), Nicolas Worth (HCMA), Vedanta Balbahadur (S+P)

Architect of record: Saucier + Perrotte architectes / Hughes Condon Marler Architects

Structural: Glotman Simpson

Mechanical: Stantec

Electrical: Applied Engineering Solutions (AES)

Perry + Associates

Joseph M. Scott, trippedonlight

Marcel Schoenenberger
McSquared System design Group Inc.

Architectural concrete: UCC group

Signage, Wayfinding and exhibition design: Smartdesign Group with NGX interactive

Lab Design: Stantec

General contractor:

Marc Cramer
514 845 2857

Saucier + Perrotte architectes

CAD system, project management, or other software used:
BIM AutoDesk Revit, AutoCAD



Structural system
Exposed Architectural board-formed concrete by UCC Group
Concrete frame formed and poured by Newway Concrete Forming Ltd.
Concrete supply by Ocean Construction Supplies Ltd.
Structural Steel by CRS Construction Ltd.

Exterior cladding
Metal Panels:
Zinc and aluminum soffits by Kerrian Metalhouse Ltd.

Metal/glass curtain wall:
Upper curtain wall: Inland Glass and Aluminum

Ground Level curtain wall: Glasstech

Moisture barrier:
Below grade SBS membrane by J.R. Trory and Company Ltd.

Curtain wall:
L.4-Roof Curtainwall by Inland Glass and Aluminum Ltd.
L.1-3 Curtainwall by Glastech Glazing Contractors Ltd.

Built-up roofing:
2 Ply SBS roofing: Soprema

VM Zinc Roofing by Kerrian Metalhouse Ltd.

Echo Glass
Lightmore Glazing

Skylights by Echo Glass Installations Ltd.

Glazed entry doors by Glastech Glazing Contractors Ltd.

Metal & wood doors:
McGregor & Thompson Hardware Ltd.

Sliding doors:
Columbia Glazing Systems Inc.

Fire-control doors, security grilles:
McGregor & Thompson Hardware Ltd.

Upswinging doors, other:
Overhead door: Wayne Dalton

Locksets, closers, exit devices & pulls:
McGregor & Thompson Hardware Ltd.

Interior finishes
Acoustical ceilings:
Acoustic tile: CGC Inc.

Perforated metal panels: Unalloy

Installer: Power Drywall Ltd

Suspension grid:
Product by CGC Inc., install by Power Drywall Ltd.

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Lab Benching, Counters and Fumehoods by Bedcolab
Conventional Millwork by Feature Millwork Inc.
Interior Western Red Cedar T&G Cladding by Morinwood Inc.

Paints and stains:
Paint: Dulux

Epoxy coatings: Duochem

Quest Metal
Keith Panel Systems

Floor and wall tile:
Daltile installed by Apex Granite Counter-Tops & Tile Inc
Resilient flooring:
Nora Rubber in Labs installed by Maxwell Floors Ltd.
Johnsonite Linoleum installed by Maxwell Floors Ltd.

Interface and Shaw product installed by Maxwell Floors Ltd.

Data centre access flooring: ASM Modular Systems Inc.

Special interior finishes unique to this project:
MMA resin flooring: BASF system, installed by Surface Renewal Systems Ltd.

Epoxy flooring: BASF Ucrete

Interior fridge panels: Kingspan

Office furniture:
Chairs: Haworth

Desks: Teknion

Seminar/Conference chairs: Herman Miller

Reception furniture:
Custom: Feature Millwork Inc.

Fixed seating:
Lecture Hall jump seats: Haworth

Lounge seating: Teknion
Lecture seating: Haworth
Office chairs: Haworth
Custom: Feature Millwork Inc.

Custom, by Feature Millwork Inc.


Other furniture:
Projection screens: Dalite

Lecture hall fixed tables: Feature Millwork Inc.

Interior ambient lighting:
Slimline Seamless by Feelux, installed by Western Pacific Enterprises GP

SeLux, installed by Western Pacific Enterprises GP

Task lighting: by owner

Lumenpulse, installed by Western Pacific Enterprises GP

Supply and install by Kone Inc.

Installed by Keith Plumbing and Heating Co. Ltd.

Energy management or building automation system:
ESC Automation

Other unique products that contribute to sustainability:
Entry mats: Construction Specialties