Explorer motif inspiration for campus

September 08, 2006, volume 37, no. 1



Document Tools

Print This Article

E-mail This Page

Font Size
S      M      L      XL

Related Stories

Metaphors abound for the elegant, elongated curved wood and glass canopy that floats over the atrium of Central City Shopping Centre, and defines the new home for Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus. Architect Bing Thom likens the shape to a giant bird that has landed on the roof of the mall. Others see an airplane, or even a space ship. To interior designer Sally Emmerson, principal of Raven Design Consultants, it is clearly the overturned hull of a boat—perhaps a canoe, such as one that fur trader Simon Fraser might have navigated through the rapids of the river that now bears his name.

The explorer motif inspired Emmerson in tackling the mammoth challenge of creating, nearly from scrap, the interior flow of a major new university. With husband and business partner Stephen Emmerson, and in a joint venture with Omnicon a Vancouver firm of architects, designers, and planners, she has spent nearly three years fitting the many complex components of classrooms, theatres, research labs, library, and administrative services into the new space.

The campus comprises three distinct areas:

First is the mezzanine plaza, which is the public face of the university—the main floor of the expansive, four-storey central atrium central atrium, capped with a dramatic king post support structure. This is where services such as Registrar's office, information, student services, bookstore, a reprographic shop, and drop-in computer labs and lounges are housed. It also provides space for public meetings and ceremonies.

The challenge here is that there is no front door. This area is accessible either by a sweep of stairs off the 102 St. concourse, or via the third floor parking lot. This openness helps instill a sense of transparency, and emphasizes the university's role as a dynamic part of its community. The second area is the third-floor podium, a vast floor with limited access to natural light. Originally planned as a central atrium, the floors above this plane were eventually filled in to meet the needs of another Central City tenant. While this might have been a disadvantage, it is actually an opportunity to accommodate the specific needs of several arts and technology programs that require more environmental control than a light-filled atrium would allow.

At the centre of the podium is the library, located here because of a pre-existing high-capacity structural slab that can support the weight of the book stacks. Here, too, Emmerson alludes to an underlying theme of exploration and uncharted territories, using a sail motif on the ceiling above the stacks, while the circular commons and info desk area conjure images of a globe.

Finally, there is the galleria, the elongated, asymmetrical shape over the original mall, with walkways flanking each side. This is the part of the university that is visible to shoppers and pedestrians below. In keeping with her vision of the roof structure as an overturned boat, Emmerson treated the walkways as planks in the hull of the ship, with secondary corridors as oarlocks, leading to classrooms and research areas.

While planning a university campus is serious business, there are areas where wit and whimsy play a role. For instance, the designers exploited the raised access flooring, which allows services such as plumbing, electrical, and cables to run under the floors, to include sunken "pools", where students can sit on the floor to study, read, or chat.

Search SFU News Online