Sustainability and the Student Union Building (SUB)


(Josh): What is your role with the Build SFU project?

(Christine): My name is Christine Dyson and I am the Faculty of Environment representative on the board of directors of the Simon Fraser Student Society. Build SFU is the largest project that the SFSS has ever undertaken. The board of directors and I have been learning all about the project since we started in May and we’ve made some major changes to respond to student concerns.

(Josh): We understand there was a lot of student engagement about the design of the SUB. What did students say they wanted to see in terms of sustainability?

(Christine): Through campus outreach and during two workshops focused on sustainability, students provided great feedback about their priorities. They looked at not only environmental sustainability - which is critical - but also social sustainability. Social sustainability means that the building should be a place to build a sense of community and improve student life. And they wanted to design the building in a way that reduces its impact on the environment and natural resources. Some of the specific features of the SUB include the use of natural materials such as wood, the use of meters and dashboards which will provide students instant feedback about water and energy usage, and incorporation of rooftop gardens.

(Josh): Can you tell us a bit about what sustainability aspects were incorporated into the final building design?

(Christine): The design has some sustainable elements that are more visible such as LED lighting and natural materials, while other design elements are harder to see. For example, the building has been designed with a high-performance building envelope with increased insulation, which will require less machinery to heat and cool the building in the winter and summer. Solar heat gain will be controlled, resulting in less energy being used to cool the building. The design highlights transparency and natural light throughout the building to improve student wellness and reduce energy consumption. LED lighting will be used because it is long-lasting and uses less electricity. With the help of a group of students, we will have a system in place to monitor energy and water usage so that students can see how much they’re using. This type of dashboard helps people be aware of their usage and be conservative wherever they can.

(Josh): The building's target is to obtain LEED Gold certification - but that would of course be a one-time designation that is awarded once construction is completed. What are your long-term plans for the building?

(Christine): We’ve designed the building to have solar panels and solar thermal heating on the roof eventually so that there is opportunity to harness solar energy. The heating system is an efficient, passive system which will reduce the environmental impact of heating in the winter. Water usage will be minimized. We’ve placed student lounges around the perimeter of the building beside large windows and the nearby lights will adjust themselves so that they are dimmed or turned off when there is enough natural light. And for health reasons, none of the materials used will emit toxins which is healthier for building users and over the long-term, will reduce non-biodegradable materials in landfills. And finally we will incorporate measurement and verification protocols so that energy, water and electrical use in the building can be evaluated to ensure that the building isn’t using more than it should.

(Josh): Students on campus are used to seeing buildings that were constructed decades ago with little consideration for sustainability. How would the SUB compare to the construction of a more familiar building like the Academic Quadrangle?

(Christine): The first difference that students are likely to notice about our SUB’s construction is the incorporation of glass and wood into it’s design to create a brighter and warmer indoor environment for students. The SUB has been designed to help facilitate overall student wellness. In the past 50 years, much has been learned about the how the built environment affects student wellness. Unlike most of the older buildings on campus, our SUB’s design has taken this into account and will have proper ventilation, natural light, and spaces that are inclusive of different body types and abilities. All of these factors can have huge health and learning benefits. And something that will be very noticeable is that the exterior will be made of glass and metal while the interior will have lots of natural wood elements. It will have a different feel than the older buildings – much less concrete.

(Josh): What do you think a building like this on Burnaby campus would say about the university?

(Christine): I think it will demonstrate to the world what SFU students are capable of action when they put their minds to something. This building will “fit in” to the campus architecture but in a more modern way. We have heard student feedback about the dull campus colours and have designed this building to be a more vibrant take on SFU Burnaby. I think the SUB will also show that the university cares about the environment and about the health of its students. The SUB will demonstrate that students are actively working towards creating a better environment for students with a vision of becoming a leader in environmental sustainability. This building is a response to student requests for improved facilities and student life. The SUB will say that the university and its students want to enrich the student experience while being sustainable at the same time.

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