With spring blooming, more and more of us are heading outdoors, to read, talk, work or just lounge around. To help, new purpose-built furniture installations are encouraging people to move their activities out into the campus landscape.

When he walked through the campus in late March, Dean Gregory was delighted to see so many people out enjoying the spring weather, sprawled over loungers, having lunch on benches, working on laptops at outdoor tables and desks. Gregory is the University’s Landscape Architect, and he and his colleagues at Campus and Community Planning spend a lot of time designing public spaces to fit the University’s long-term goals.

“We see these public spaces as the community’s outdoor living room,” says Gregory. “They’re much more than pretty backdrops. Ideally, outdoor programming should be a natural extension of interior programming. We want to encourage people to sit, socialize, eat — and study, of course.”

Learners Walk

The benches and desks on Learner’s Walk, just outside the IK Barber Learning Centre, were the first of a new breed of functional outside furniture. They allow people to do outdoors what they would have done indoors: snack, think, chat, work on a computer. Computer use is facilitated by all-weather power outlets by the desks.

Outdoor furniture

Buchanan Courtyards was the first major outdoor renovation since the $46-million-dollar Public Realm Plan was passed in 2009. The plan aims to create dynamic campus spaces; encourage informal outdoor learning; promote idea sharing and creativity; nurture physical and mental health; and instill pride and a sense of place. In other words, make the campus a place where people want to hang out.

School of Population

The Harvest Table in front of the School of Population is a spectacular, one-off piece of outdoor art that’s also functional. Fashioned from the reclaimed trunk of an old cedar tree, it is used by students, faculty and staff for scheduled functions and classroom activities as well as for informal get-togethers and down time.

Fairview Square

Fairview Square, a new outdoor commons area that just opened this spring, includes “Wave” chairs. There is a real diversity of outdoor seating — simple benches, more serious work chairs, loungers, perchers — like all the types of furniture you might find in your house, but outside.

“You can splay out or eat or read or whatever you want to do,” says Gregory. “It’s not static, it allows for different ways of being in the landscape, depending on your mood or how much sun you want — whether you’re alone, having an intimate conversation or with a group. There’s a lot of flexibility.”

The materials used for the furniture in Fairview Square advance UBC’s commitment to sustainability. Ipe, a tropical hardwood popular for its durability and low maintenance requirements, has been replaced with a product made from rice husks, mineral oil and salt. “I’m reluctant to even draw attention to this fact,” Gregory says “because I don’t think anyone would know it is not wood. It’s a great facsimile and certain to have no impact on tropical rainforest preservation. It looks like wood, has similar thermal qualities, is extremely durable and holds its colour — and best of all, it’s sustainable.

April 25, 2013