Elevation of Orchard Commons
Orchard Commons
University of British Columbia

University of British Columbia Orchard Commons

Vancouver, British Columbia
Fostering Social Connection

Social sustainability was top of mind when the University of British Columbia set out to create a new first-year academic and student housing hub – a facility that would host both domestic and international students. With most of these students away from home for the first time, many of them in a new country and adjusting to a different language and culture, this new facility would need to provide a supportive and welcoming environment to ease their transition, while integrating with the campus at large.

We collaborated with students, the University, and Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS), to create an outward-looking facility that invites the greater campus in, promoting diversity and social connection by bringing more activity and life to the heart of UBC. Our design cultivates interaction and chance meetings with transparent, interconnected spaces, and supports the wellbeing of occupants through views of nature, daylight, and the use of healthy materials. The result is a new hub on campus with a unique identity, one that fosters community and long-term relationships while supporting the University’s social, environmental, and economic sustainability goals.

Designing for Social Sustainability
Spaces that Encourage Social Interaction

In a world where social connections are increasingly made through technology, it is imperative to provide spaces on campus that entice students to interact and help form community. Designed to be outward-looking with a sense of invitation to the greater campus, Orchard Commons encourages social interaction where students can meet others, share authentic experiences, and create a new common culture.

The Shared Meal
The dining hall offers a powerful opportunity to act as a social connection hub and landing point in the facility. Centrally located, the dining hall is open to all, inviting Orchard Commons residents and students and the larger campus to share a meal and interact. Bathed in daylight and punctuated by the use of wood, the dining hall is adjacent to an outdoor commons area making it a highly visible and open setting.
Creating Community in Tall Buildings
To encourage community, a range of social spaces were integrated into the buildings, including 3-storey interconnected residential lounges with flexible spaces, a kitchen, and floor-to-ceiling windows that command spectacular 270-degree ocean views.
Generosity and Invitation

Two overarching principles were used to foster social connection–generosity and invitation. The critical elements that were used to achieve this include:

Transparency, to create a sense of invitation in the residential lounges, exit stairs, and public activity spaces on the ground floor;

Daylight, to promote well-being and a sense of place, and enhance wayfinding;

Wood, used in strategic ways to be inviting, warm, and promote well-being.

Wood has a universal appeal, and its natural characteristics are associated with a sense of welcome. As a material, it also reflects the rainforest setting of the campus.
Facade Strategies
Computational Design

The unique façade of the residential towers provides a defining identity. The shapes of the precast concrete cladding were optimized using computational techniques to maximize repetition while maintaining a unique appearance. The envelope was also optimized to meet UBC’s sustainable energy goals. Computational optimization resulted in a wall system that was very cost-effective and accelerated the schedule.

Computational Optimization
Using the computational model, the design of each of the 1,200 plus concrete panels was distilled to only 18 unique panel types. The repetition of these types provided an efficient solution reducing the cost nearly in half.
“Advancing UBC’s social, environmental, and economic sustainability on campus, Orchard Commons provides the latest in academic mixed-use design with stunning architecture. We are excited to see a diverse community of students and faculty enjoy the new facility with its dynamic social spaces.”

Andrew Parr, UBC Managing Director, Student Housing & Hospitality Services

Innovation Incubator
Promoting Activity

With one of the goals of the project being to promote physical activity and social connections, we wondered: What would it take to get more people to use the stairs, choosing physical activity over an elevator ride?
Rethinking the conventional design of exit stairwells, we placed the stairs at the perimeter of the building and incorporated large windows to bring in daylight and views to the outdoors. Indoor connections were also created through the incorporation of transparent walls between the stairwell and social areas on each floor.

Our instinct was that this design would invite greater stair use – so to support this, we conducted a study in collaboration with UBC to determine the impact of these design decisions. We found that, when compared to conventional stairwell configurations, people were six times more likely to choose the stairs when they included daylight, views, and more opportunities for social connection.
Orchard Commons
Fostering Social Connection

Project Team

Portrait of Jana Foit, Higher Education Practice Leader in the Vancouver studio
Jana Foit
David Dove
Kathy Wardle
Kaz Bremner
Derek Newby
David Damon