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Building the UBC aquatic centre

By Rob Walter, Eng.L., AScT, LEED AP, Alex Chou, P.Eng., LEED AP BD+C, and Matt Freeby, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB

The University of British Columbia (UBC) Aquatic Centre is a modern competitive and recreational aquatic facility that was designed and built by a team of consultants and contractors working with UBC and UBC Properties Trust.

The state-of-the-art University of British Columbia (UBC) Aquatic Centre, which opened earlier this year, is a modern competitive and recreational aquatic facility that was designed and built by a team of consultants and contractors working with UBC and UBC Properties Trust. The facility represents a unique hybrid aquatic complex that brings together the programmatic uses of competition, community, and campus life.

The swim programming at the university is one of the highest achieving programs in the country. In fact, UBC sent more athletes to the 2012 Olympics than any other location in Canada. It is also located within one of the fastest growing communities in the province’s Lower Mainland for families and students thanks to the development and growth of the surrounding Endowment Lands.

Located in the heart of the re-envisioned ‘Student Precinct’ at UBC’s Point Grey campus, the aquatic centre commands an open and engaging urban building design to draw in casual and recreation-based student use, whether for swimming, socializing, or spectating. The building fronts the newly designed Transit Arrival Plaza—the daily arrival and departure point for half of the university’s 50,000 students who attend this campus. The aquatic hall is a gateway building, providing a warm welcome to students entering the campus. Combining these three programming goals of competition, community, and campus within a single aquatic centre was the driving force behind the design, making this building unique within North America.

Inside information

A central light well and light diffusing screen conceptually and physically separate the competition and community sides of the natatorium while delivering controlled natural daylight to the centre of the plan. Exterior ramps and plazas on the north and south façades follow the slope of the land and slowly rise to the level of the bleachers allowing for strong visual connectivity and light to the aquatic hall and access for spectator events, or for casual use of the bleachers without having to pass through the lobby. This creates flexible campus space where students and community members can gather while also limiting interference with the operation of community or competition programming.

The floating white roof has a ribbon of glazing that wraps the facility allowing for even light and unobstructed views of the pool environment. The interior of the tessellated roof form is a high-performance acoustic ceiling that provides a unique environment where teaching and coaching can take place alongside high volume leisure activities. The aquatic centre allows toddlers and athletes to thrive side-by-side, making this space an open and inviting asset to the quality of the student experience on campus.

The 8000-m2 (79,000-sf) facility includes a 50-m pool, a 25-m pool, a leisure pool, hot tub, steam room, sauna, viewing decks and spectator areas, change rooms, meeting rooms and wet classrooms, and a food and beverage kiosk to meet the needs of students, faculty, and the community.

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