UBC Geological Field School

ARCHITECT BattersbyHowat Architects Inc.
LOCATION Oliver, British Columbia

The facilities for the University of British Columbia (UBC) Geological Field School are located at the edge of an 80-acre parcel of land near Oliver, British Columbia, adjacent to the White Lake Grasslands Protected Area and the Susie Mine. The site falls within the Southern Okanagan Basin Ecosection, characterized by dramatic rock outcroppings, dry grasslands and open pine forests.

The intention is to build 10 new buildings to replace the existing camp buildings that are reaching the end of their lifespan and to augment the facilities for increased capacity while better facilitating course instruction. The new camp consists of a dining and lecture hall combined with a map-study cabin, as well as sleeping and bathing facilities for students and faculty. The Geological Field School will be used by UBC Earth and Ocean Science students, faculty and staff for two weeks in May and will accommodate approximately 90 people. 

Design investigations led to a substantial reconsideration of the project scope both programmatically and architecturally. The total number of structures containing the facility program was reduced from 13 to 10. Sleeping accommodations were consolidated into larger bunkhouses and washing facilities were centralized. In addition, the teaching facilities and dining hall were consolidated to create a more efficient and physically substantial central structure. This programmatic modification allowed for a reduction in the development’s footprint and the consolidation of services while minimizing physical disruption of this site’s sensitive ecology.  

Taking the thought of minimizing the site impact further, one of the main design components is the use of canted walls throughout the project to minimize the buildings’ footprint at grade without compromising interior volumes. These canted walls do not carry roof loads but they allow sleeping bunks to be staggered, opening up what might otherwise feel like cramped sleeping quarters. The canted wall meets the roof at its outer edge eliminating the requirement for soffits resulting in less area to be finished and ultimately maintained. 

The new structures remain in the vicinity of the replaced camp buildings to minimize the impact on the site and to maintain existing utilities. The dining and lecture hall plays a central role, located near the entrance of the property and across from the communal fire pit with views to a seasonal creek and open field beyond. Conjoined with the dining/lecture hall is the map cabin. These two pieces of program were brought together with a covered exterior deck that can be used for communal and social gathering purposes. The resultant building mass provides the necessary weight to identify this as the facility’s centre while also creating an outdoor classroom to augment the indoor facilities. This covered deck space also acts as an oversized porch, reinforcing the essential communal nature of the “camp and campus” experience and atmosphere. 

On a smaller scale, clusters of sleeping cabins also incorporate social entry porches, and are placed along a meandering and permeable pedestrian path. The cabins are oriented to maximize interaction and exposure to neighbouring cabins. Wash houses are centrally located between the clusters to allow for short travel distances. 

Further strategies were employed to reduce the site impact. The structures are founded on concrete piers and isolated pad footings with a system called “Bigfoot.” The footing forms are pre-molded bell-shaped footings that are easily placed with minimal excavation. As a result, concrete usage is limited along with the site disturbance, further reducing trauma to the root systems of existing trees and vegetation. Material that is excavated from the site is used to create a semi-circular berm around the proposed communal fire pit. This proposed berm also addresses concerns surrounding noise pollution that has historically disturbed neighbours.

A low-tech water collection system will be used to capture the runoff water of the main buildings in an effort to manage storm water. The water will be utilized for rock cutting and equipment cleaning to help reduce the pressure on the well. 

Materially, the project is constructed and finished almost entirely in wood which is readily available and locally produced. Inspired by the vernacular of rural buildings around the site while also adhering to a budgetary limit, the low-slope roofs and canted walls are clad with corrugated galvanized metal panels. Recessed areas and exterior walls at entries are painted in a palette of muted colours inspired by the lichens and grasses that cling to the rugged hillsides that surround the site.

DC: The tiered/staggered section for the top bunks in relation to its lower bunks creates a critical mid-scale detail which in concert with the minimizing footprint creates what appears to be the defining canted exterior wall condition in the project. As a result, a somewhat playful but well-earned generative form emerges, enough so that the volume of the pitched roofs results in an eaveless, tight-wrap volume. Accordingly, a legitimate syntax is deployed in which overhangs and breezeways elegantly accommodate inflected walls in plan often resulting in a pleasing figure-ground balance of public-to-private spaces.

MCC: The relationship between the landscape and buildings is key in this project, and the pavilion approach allows nature to exist between these humanly scaled discrete structures. The form and materiality of the buildings are sensitive to their natural context, and the variations in shape of each pavilion bring a richness to the whole.

BH: This project has a great program–a professional summer camp. A light-touch site-ordering strategy that is responsive to the landscape, combined with an intelligent and deeply habitable cross-section creates a delicate balance of understated architecture entirely appropriate for this building form.

Client University of British Columbia Department of Earth and Ocean Science
Architect Team David Battersby, Heather Howat, Bettina Balcaen, Jose Casal
Structural Axis Engineering Ltd.
Landscape BattersbyHowat Architects Inc.
Interiors BattersbyHowat Architects Inc.
Project Manager Crystal Roche, UBC Properties Trust
General Contractor Scuka Enterprises
3D Model and Renderings Tomas Machnikowski
Area 10,140 ft2 building area on 80 acres
Budget withheld
Completion May 2014