This September, 567 students will be moving into brand-new rooms in two new buildings at Totem Park Residence. The innovative structures will use 30% less energy than comparable buildings elsewhere—and turn a few hundred commuters into UBC residents.

September sees the unveiling of a major expansion to one of UBC’s oldest student residence complex: the Totem Park Residence Infill Project. A total of 567 new student beds have been added in two seven-storey buildings slotted into the east side of the Totem Park Residences site, just off Marine Drive in the west part of campus.

The seven-storey brick buildings were raised on a grassy area at the intersection of West Mall and Thunderbird Road. The additions complement the existing Totem Park complex, designed by acclaimed modernist architect Ron Thom in the 1960s. They will be named həm'ləsəm' House and q'ələχən House, pending official approval.

This project meets the high sustainability standards of Residential Environmental Assessment Program (REAP), UBC’s homegrown solution to building green. REAP ensures that family housing built at UBC uses at least 15 percent less energy than Canada's Model National Energy Code for Buildings, which in itself outperforms all provincial building codes. Like other recent UBC projects built to REAP standards, the new residence buildings are designed to use at least 30% less energy.

The development is called an “infill” project because the new buildings were shoehorned into an open space between existing structures, rather than taking over a “green field” site. “It fits with the goal set out in Place and Promise, to rapidly expand student housing by increasing and rethinking density,” says David Kiloh, Director, Facilities and Building Services at Student Housing & Hospitality Services (SHHS). “The building team really had some challenges. With the design, the goal was to be in the same vein, be respectful, but to take it to the next level. We’ve used the same brick as the original complex, for example.”

Key sustainability features include day-lit staircases, which reduce lighting requirements; low-flow plumbing fixtures; a storm-water landscaping plan; high-efficiency air-to-air heat pumps; three sections of green roof; and a total absence of air conditioning. A sophisticated system of sensors installed in every room checks if the space is occupied, if the windows are open or closed and if it’s day or night. The feedback helps to regulate the heating controls, room by room, so that the minute a window is opened, for instance, the heating is set back.

Retention ponds by each building will collect and stem the flow of rainwater, to avoid damaging storm spikes. In a few months they will look like little marshes, with abundant plant and bird life.

Every room has bike storage, in the form of a space just inside the door where a cycle can be hung from a hook mounted on a wall (with a special wipe-down surface). This fits with Transportation Planning’s strategy to encourage cycling to, from and around the UBC campus The set-up can also be used to store a pair of skis or a snowboard.

Kiloh stresses that SHHS continues to focus on social as well as environmental sustainability in new projects like these. “It’s about having people stay on campus to sustain their education and experience university life,” he says. “This development means that 567 less people will be commuting to UBC’s Vancouver campus every day. The social fabric is the most important piece of the puzzle.”

This social fabric includes a variety of outdoor spaces, including the heart of the project—the green commons lawn and its adjacent social plaza, which support a multitude of activities from studying and sunning to pick-up sports. The neighbouring houses’ study lounges and laundry areas also take advantage of the outdoor plaza.

“Totem Park is a quiet, comfortable place,” says Kate Ferguson, Assistant Director, Residence Life. “We know that if people are going to be successful at university, their living environment needs to be successful. They have to be engaged, they have to have an enriched experience if they are to succeed and thrive as students, and later as citizens. For another 567 students, the new residence buildings will provide that important environment and support.”

The expansion will ensure that SHHS can meet a key policy promise—the guarantee that they will offer a bed to every first-year student who enters UBC directly from high school. The guarantee was expanded this year to include students from the Metro Vancouver area, who were previously exempted.

Last year, 44% of all first-year students — about 2,200 of 4,979—were housed in residence on campus. The additional 567 new beds increases capacity to 2767, so that as many as 55% could find a bed at UBC.

Not all the students who come to live at Totem are in their first year, but almost all are new to UBC. “It’s a kind of community that fosters and develops the transition to independence,” adds Ferguson.

The new buildings are just the latest examples of UBC’s pioneering work in environmental architecture. “REAP was designed for family housing at UBC, but we are piloting it on two new student residences, one at UBC Okanagan and in the Totem Park Infill in Vancouver,” explains Alison Aloisio, Manager, Green Building & Engagement at the UBC Sustainability Office.

“In May 2008, the province mandated LEED Gold certification or equivalent for all new publicly-owned buildings. This is one of the ways the BC government is taking action on climate change. UBC is using REAP certification as an alternative means of meeting the provincial mandate.”

REAP is a better fit for housing because it was specially designed to work in the UBC campus context, unlike LEED, which was originally created for commercial office buildings. Using an alternative to LEED to meet the province’s requirements is another demonstration of UBC’s innovation and leadership in green building, which includes using the campus itself as a “living lab” to test new ideas. A major update to REAP is now underway, responding to new climate, waste and water goals and targets for the campus.

The names for the two new buildings were chosen by the Musqueam People, the original residents of Point Grey, at the invitation of SHHS. “We are honoured that they chose to put forth two names that are closely linked to the Musqueam: həm'ləsəm' and q'ələχən,” says Kiloh. “The whole process speaks to our broader goal of social sustainability.”