As I wrote in my last post, SCARP and SALA are currently choosing an integrated design team for our new building, an addition to the existing Lasserre building at UBC. Two teams presented last week, and two this week. The winning team will be announced October 20th. Since we were encouraged to send along our comments on the presentations to the committee who will be choosing the best of the four teams, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss them here.

The four short-listed teams were follows:

Here are the videos for these presentations online: Week 1 (Patkau and Teeple) and Week 2 (Shape and OMA).

I’m sure that Patkau did think about how classroom space, lecture spaces, and offices would be designed compared to studio spaces, because they had diagrams showing the breakdown of program space in the new building. However, it was not clear from their presentation how they planned to differentiate these types of spaces and functions. I was alarmed by their use of the Harvard Graduate School of Design as an example of “good” studio design. Having visited the GSD, I felt that the student spaces were cold and mechanistic, and sound control in this space is not great. The other examples Patkau showed (like the Winnipeg Public Library) were all basically glass boxes. Obviously, in Vancouver it would be great to use as much natural light as possible, but sound controls are going to be an issue. Likewise, they did use students’ quotes and work in their presentation, but it was not clear how they might involve students in the design process. Moreover, the landscape design was still too embryonic to figure out at this point, and do we really want to bring the focus of the building inward, like every other modernist building on campus? Why not address the street (either one) and create a space that can actually be used during the (rainy) school year?

Teeple went a little further in their approach. They did show some specific examples of small-scale student spaces (at Langara, SFU, MacMillan, the Stephen Hawking Institute), perhaps because Proscenium focuses on interiors. While Patkau talked about the need for social spaces, Teeple actually showed examples of comfortable smaller student lounges and work spaces. As a landscape architect I will add that since the proposed SCARP/SALA building aspires to be a green building, it is a huge coup having Cornelia Oberlander as the landscape architect on their team. She was designing sustainable landscapes way before they were trendy, and has decades of experience understanding site, microclimate, and people’s use of space, which will be crucial in the design of the open spaces and axes that will anchor the new building. Although the team didn’t let her speak much, Cornelia is very careful about working with architects who will allow her to play a major role in the overall building design.

I definitely felt that Shape and FieldenCleggBradley have the necessary experience, collaboration with each other, and the most interesting proposal. In particular, I felt that their presentation style was indicative of the close working partnership the team has: each spoke for an equal amount of time, each spoke highly of the other team members, and each fielded questions in their areas of expertise. I felt that the landscape architects, with their local UBC experience in participatory process, was also a major strength. They seemed to “get” the idea of collaboration, combining these three different areas of study in both the building itself and the building process. I also liked the projects highlighting their use of artificial light made to look natural, as this will likely be needed in the rainy, dark Vancouver climate. FCB’s experiences in the UK, a very similar climate to ours, will be very useful in terms of the building’s design, lighting, and materials. Teeple was the only other team that convinced me that they would design interesting, functional, and well-designed smaller spaces within the SCARP/SALA building. These two teams were the strongest in terms of their commitment to the overall design: landscape, relationship to existing buildings on the site, the building itself, and its interior spaces.

As expected, OMA’s approach to “iconic” architecture was troublesome and problematic for our site and building, since it is a small addition, rather than a brand-new structure. Ultimately, we don’t want form over function. In terms of function, although they were the only ones to offer a glimpse of how the interior space might be broken down, the hierarchies emerge: the majority of the space was designated as studios, and the highest floors and best views as private offices. Even though the firm supposedly does landscape architecture as well as architecture, their proposal was particularly weak in the interaction of the building with the site: the weakest of all the groups. I don’t even remember OMA mentioning the name of the landscape architecture firm they would be working with, which I think says a lot about their attitude towards their collaborators. I feel that they are still working in the modernist-brutalist tradition, and frankly UBC has enough giant, bland glass and concrete buildings and vast empty open plazas already.

In general, I felt that Patkau, Teeple and OMA were overwhelmed by the concept of designing a design school, and spent way too much time claiming they were going to build something that would put Vancouver on the map. We need well-designed, functional spaces for students and faculty. It would be nice if the building was also innovative, but I would leave that to the sustainability features rather than the mere design characteristics. Star-chitecture is not always great design, and in most cases the interaction of these buildings with their surroundings is jarring, not to mention their impact on the pedestrian realm. I still think that all three of these teams think they’re designing an architecture building, and while several have designed research-based buildings before, they don’t consider this to be a research facility, since SALA students don’t do the type of social science research we do at SCARP. I think this is problematic since about 80% of SCARP students are in streams other than urban design, and will not be working in studio-type settings. This is partly why the Shape team is the strongest: they had a more developed design process and seemed to anticipate the difficulties of designing a building that would house three different programs with different needs. OMA emerges as the weakest not only because their previous work highlights their modernist attitude towards design and collaboration, but also a lack of interest in participatory processes; all three of the other teams mentioned specific steps they would take to involve students and faculty at all three programs (particularly Shape, who had very specific events planned to involve the public in the design process).

Of course, we see only the public presentations. The committee responsible for choosing the winning team (made up of faculty and students in all three programs) started by interviewing 23 teams and shortlisting these four, who were also interviewed in depth after their presentations. It will be interesting to see which emerges as the winner come October 20th.

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