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Santa J. Ono’s view on Building a University for the Environment and the Mind


Santa J. Ono

- Education

- Apr 12 2017

As the student body of the University of British Columbia Vancouver undergoes an expansion in domestic and international students alike, concerns for campus capacity loom in the thoughts of Santa J. Ono, President and Vice-Chancellor of the institution. The university campus is home to almost 53,000 domestic and international students and, at current, the bed tally stands at 11,038, having increased by more than 4,350 in the past decade. With an area of land set aside on the 1,000-acre campus to provide around 16,000 more spaces for students, the university is striving to do more than simply provide beds. It has its eyes set on transforming the space into on-site commons, or community spaces designed to balance their academic, social, professional and family lives.


Santa J. Ono

President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia

Oriented Around Your Education

“Exchange” was one of the primary aims of building student residences. Whether that exchange was trading knowledge in the traditional setting of the classroom, or in a less formal context such as restaurants, cafes or even the gym, the spaces are designed to facilitate the exchange of ideas and help. Accessibility to classrooms outside teaching hours was also important for students to be able to gather and work on their projects alone or with groups. This also promotes the exchange of knowledge between the disciplines through exposure to different available learning environments.

Informally, the onsite cafes, bars and restaurants were all built to enrich the educational experience for all at UBC. We are focused on the fact that learning more about each other enriches our own work. Integrating work life and social life allows an easy transition between academic excellence and social life.

Wellbeing is fundamental to the new developments. As such, wellbeing promotion permeates throughout the campus. Research consistently tells us that wellbeing promotes resiliency, productivity, the ability to engage in deep learning and a greater likelihood of students, faculty and staff to recommend their institutions. Physical activity is an important aspect too: healthy minds are aided greatly by healthy bodies. Mass bike storage and showers help promote active commutes and the state of the art gyms encourage many to include workouts to their daily routines. Furthermore, the range of food outlets of Ponderosa Commons and Orchard Commons have a mission to fuel the minds of the residents, students, faculty and staff.

Building for the student and global environment

As well as students’ proximity to their academic facilities and the wide array of local amenities, these new Commons shall be built in a way that leads the way in energy and environmental design that lives up to a LEED Gold certification standard.

Sustainability was pivotal in the design. Waste reduction, energy efficiency and minimal water use were key features of both Orchard and Ponderosa Commons, reducing electrical consumption and cost. The buildings’ exteriors are well equipped to weather the trials and tribulations of the winter months in British Columbia. They serve as a barrier to freezing outside temperatures, and also reflects the heat in the summer while keeping cool ventilated air in. In winter, a mechanical system is used to recycle warm air back into the buildings. Each residential room has its own brain that is always thinking about energy efficiency. Low-flow plumping fixtures and in-room light and heat sensors adjust the brightness and temperature settings to ensure minimal energy waste. Waste, of course, can’t be avoided all together. What does come out of the residency is dealt with by a four-stream waste sorting system that ensures the maximum amount of waste is being diverted from the landfill.

Changing the behaviour of the buildings is one thing, but students and staff must play a part, too. The Student Housing and Hospitality Services offers a variety of awareness initiatives for residents. Their aim is to increase positive behaviour that encourages the most environmentally efficient use of the buildings and furthers environmental awareness and sustainability in our community.

A community of convenience and support

Convenience and peace of mind are key concerns that pervade the entire design of the commons and to alleviate the childcare worries of students and faculty members alike, UBC is proud to provide the largest university-operated childcare program in North America. Offering quality day-care to our students allows them to focus on their subjects and in turn allows our students to not have to choose between leading a family and pursuing their studies. Commons has moved away from traditional fixed theatre-style seating. Classrooms are now designed and equipped with technology that offers a flexible, team-oriented, collaborative learning environment.

All these developments were designed with many important aspects in mind. Above all, community and support was the point under which all would come together. There are a plethora of opportunities for students to interact with each other and with their faculty in different ways. All these opportunities help create a cohesive university community, where support and the chance to flourish is available to all.

Unsurprisingly, the new residences are the most popular choice of incoming students. Their clear commitment to creating and nurturing a vibrant, healthy and thriving community, the Commons offer a place for residents, commuter students, staff and faculty to build connections and engage in interdisciplinary experiences. Most importantly, though, is the chance to become part of a community. 


Read more on Building a University for the Environment and the Mind on President2President website, a thought leadership series offering perspectives from university presidents for university presidents on the challenges faced in higher education.

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