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2016 MCHAP

UBC Bookstore Renovation + Expansion

Steve McFarlane

Vancouver, Canada

May 2014


Steve McFarlane / office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers Michelle Biggar / office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers


Rob Grant / office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers (Project Associate) Susanne Hunter / office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers (Project Architect) Duane Palibroda / Fast + Epp (Structural Engineer) Jean-Sebastien Tessier / Integral Group (Mechanical Engineer) Andrew Tashiro / MMM Group (Electrical Engineer) Joseph Fry / Hapa Collaborative (Landscape Architect) Carl Roberts / Syncra Construction (Construction Manager)


Debbie Harvie / Anna Li, University of British Columbia


Ema Peter Andrew Latreille


We began by pushing the store’s perimeter outwards and wrapping the eroded concrete face with a high performance glass skin, that converted the Bookstore’s fortress-like edifice into a luminous glass box that both uplifts the retail experience and transforms the presence of the Bookstore in the campus by reinvigorating the public realm around the building. With this approach, we were able to open the introspective interiors, and clarify the previously convoluted plan. The addition houses new and reconfigured retail space, a new convenience store, a coffee shop, and a variety of flexible spaces that encourage gathering and informal exchange. New grade-level entries at the prominent northeast corner retail space replace the below-grade aspects of the original entry stairs and ramps. The coffee shop and convenience store spill out onto a newly landscaped courtyard, further activating the campus edges. Glazed skins are designed to reveal the animated activities within. A mezzanine above, hung from the hybrid wood and steel roof structure, provides additional gathering space while animating the building from the outside. It is enveloped by text-based fritted glass consisting of alphabetically ordered words from book quotes provided by Bookstore users, contributing to the dynamic nature of the space. As sunlight filters through the words, they wash the interiors with a play of light and shadow while also providing shading and privacy. The new steps complete with integrated wood seating, connect new and old, inviting visitors to explore the retail areas beyond while providing another informal gathering space.


The UBC Bookstore is located in the heart of The University of British Columbia, firmly anchored on University Boulevard and framing a main campus entrance. In 2012, we were engaged by UBC to renovate and expand their current space with the objective of improving the building’s transparency and services while reinstating the Bookstore as a hub for meeting and gathering. Characteristic of many institutional buildings from the 1970s, the existing Bookstore building presented a dual identity. On one hand it exemplified the strong qualities of brutalist architecture –robust and logical structure, commitment to the plasticity of concrete, limited material palette and the image of durability and stoicism. In contrast, with its absence of a legible entry it appeared more as an unwelcoming and anonymous fortress concealing an underground bunker than an enlightened repository for books. For years the Bookstore had operated in a way that was physically disconnected from its surroundings due to some significant level changes in grade. From an urban design perspective, the original building was timid regarding the street-wall, stepping back from the corner and defining the edges with below-grade cave-like spaces. The original entry sequence emphasized these subterranean qualities. Using the transformative influence of architecture to adapt our aging infrastructure is one of the most sustainable activities that we can engage in today. Our goal was to transform an existing insular brutalist building into a bright and vibrant retail and social space at the heart of the campus.


The newly renovated and expanded Bookstore on the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) main campus is proof that simple design interventions can have grand effects. What began as an initiative to improve the store’s visibility and services went beyond these measures to transform the Bookstore into a vibrant meeting place that invigorates not only the store but also its broader surroundings of the UBC public realm. The glass skin that envelopes the addition, along with the perimeter mezzanine have transformed the store into a luminous box that unveils the animated activities within the building, drawing people in. Immediately following the opening of the new expansion and renovation project, the Bookstore saw a significant increase in sales across all of the retail areas (344%), far exceeding the client’s expectations. Part of the mandate for the Bookstore renovation was to introduce innovative elements to support social interaction and the exchange of ideas in spontaneous ways. The stairs, the mezzanine and the plaza all have been extremely successful in providing comfortable places for social gathering, reinstating the Bookstore as a social hub. The transformational nature of this project has been its primary contribution to the larger architectural field –opening up and lightening a somewhat typical brutalist artifact from the 80's, effectively reimagining an outdated and internalized edifice and making it relevant to 21st century life, inviting and engaged with the public realm.

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