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Reinventing transit-oriented design

This unique project features a 650-unit student residence spread over four interconnected buildings and a major transit exchange.

Vancouver, BC

It all started with a bus exchange

In the early 2000s, the University of British Columbia and TransLink (Metro Vancouver’s regional transit authority), contracted DIALOG to design and build a transit exchange with an underground bus layover. Excessive construction costs and logistical challenges made that scenario unfeasible, however, and the project was shelved. The concept was revisited a number of times over the following decade, but both cost and logistics continued to be stumbling blocks. The project finally gained traction in 2015 when DIALOG came up with the idea of merging the bus exchange with student housing. The design team added a unique perspective to the project, proposing that the student residences be built on a three-storey podium above the bus layover.

Marrying transit and residential

The new UBC bus exchange is an at-grade transit facility, with one point of entry for all bus traffic at the north end of the site and a separate exit at the south end. Buses drop off in one area and pick up in another, to ensure a smooth flow of traffic through the site. The bus layover, where buses wait before heading out on their routes, is located immediately underneath the residence building, which created some unique design challenges. Air quality and noise mitigation were crucial considerations when merging these typologies. The concrete structure and size of the overhead podium reduce noise, while natural airflow and fans ensure that bus exhaust doesn’t affect people in the residence.

Residences that are a departure

The DIALOG team wanted the building, which is situated at a major intersection, to serve as a gateway to the campus. The 12-storey main tower steps down to eight storeys on the west and five storeys on the southern-most part of the residence. The building’s massing was influenced by European street wall concepts; materials were selected to have a more traditional, timeless palette and European sensibility. Vertical glass columns between the four buildings provide natural light for internal corridors, while an eyebrow shading detail gives the building a more residential and less institutional feel. The massive podium on the inside edge of the residence serves as a platform for the residences to rest on, as well as a recreation and gathering space for students. The 43,000 sq ft podium, which is equivalent to the size of nine NBA basketball courts, features a massive wooden deck, large lawn, hammocks, and bocce courts. The building’s lobby and lounge area open out onto the podium.

Multi-faceted student experiences

The 650 students living in Exchange Residence will be housed in 71 nano suites, 88 studios, five large / accessible studios, 77 one-bedroom suites, 19 two-bedroom suites, 84 four-bedroom suites, and 15 two-bedroom townhouses. The suites all have furnished living areas, private bedrooms and full kitchens. Each 140 sq ft nano suite includes a desk / workspace that converts into a bed, a small living area, kitchen, storage space, and a full bathroom. Another unique feature of the Exchange building is the two collegia, shared multi-purpose spaces where students who don’t live on campus can rest, eat, study and even nap between classes. Lower levels of the residence building include study rooms, as well as specially engineered music rooms and storage space.

Project facts

Client: University of British Columbia / TransLink
Disciplines: Architecture, Interior Design, Landscape Architecture
Size: Exchange Residence – 290,000 sq ft
Capacity: 650 beds
Budget: Exchange Residence - $76 million; UBC Bus Exchange - $22 million
Completion: 2019
General Contractor: Heatherbrae Builders