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Q&A: Ian Abercrombie on new Surrey building opening for classes this fall

April 01, 2019
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SFU’s Surrey campus is expanding with a new building across from its Central City roots in the downtown core, which will be ready to launch a new program this fall. SFU News talked to Ian Abercrombie, director of campus planning and development, about the new space and how it will benefit students as well as the general community.

SFU’s new building in Surrey will expand the university’s physical presence in the city. How will the new building complement the current campus space?

The new building is SFU’s first major step in expanding beyond its Central City campus presence in Surrey, creating a distinct academic precinct in Surrey’s revitalized city centre. In addition to housing a new program, the new space will permit the university to expand its research in the energy, hydrogen, electricity and liquified natural gas sectors.

It will also accommodate students who are commercializing their research through the Technology Entrepreneurship program.

This new space will be home to 440 new students—320 undergraduates and 120 graduates—and 75 existing graduate students. Students will be enrolled in the new Sustainable Energy Engineering program that launches this fall.

Spanning five storeys, the building will include a 400-seat theatre and atrium, teaching labs, offices for faculty, staff and student affairs, plus meeting rooms, grad offices, student central services, a multipurpose activity room for yoga and exercise classes and student support spaces.

How does SFU’s physical expansion in Surrey’s city centre add to the city’s downtown core?

From the beginning, the SFU Surrey campus has been part of the Surrey centre community, and the new building will add to this dynamic.

The new building is a significant addition to the emerging Surrey City Centre, playing a key role in its revitalization and expansion. As part of its master planning, SFU has been working closely with the City of Surrey, TransLink and other stakeholders on land use, and urban and transportation planning related to Surrey City Centre. Surrey Central SkyTrain Station is conveniently located adjacent to SFU’s campus.

Higher educational levels are associated with socio-economic benefits such as improved health, increased employment, greater community participation and generally, an improved quality of life. These societal benefits support Surrey’s long-term vision for Surrey City Centre, which includes new community amenities, greater economic development, attracting new investment and making Surrey a 21st century city.

What are some of the building’s key features?

The building is already an eye-catching landmark in the downtown core. It accommodates 14 research labs, 50 offices for faculty, student affairs, the dean, finance and facilities, a 400-seat lecture hall that will also accommodate community functions; mechanical and electrical rooms, meeting rooms, grad offices, student central services, a large multipurpose room and student support spaces.

The concept, designed by Revery Architects (formerly Bing Thom Architects), incorporates SFU’s ongoing efforts to reduce consumption and waste, and decrease energy and emissions. Its central focus is a grand atrium staircase with live trees and specialized lighting, keeping sustainable practice top of mind.

The building is often referred to as a ‘living lab’ – explain how that will work. How will the new building itself be sustainable?

The building not only targets energy-efficient LEED Gold standards, it is also a living showcase for sustainable building standards. There are numerous features that exemplify sustainable building use.

Just a few examples include a heat recovery chiller system that will be used for simultaneous heating and cooling when possible. There is a high-efficiency, open loop cooling tower with direct connections to magnetic bearing chillers, and heat recovery from building exhaust to ventilation air through a passive heat recovery loop.

Students will study in surroundings that not only embrace sustainable practice but will provide real-time operational data they can use in the classroom.

How did the design for the new building take shape?

Conceived by the late Bing Thom, the building’s design is yet another example of his architectural genius, which has most certainly left its mark on Surrey’s downtown core. The building rises around a natural, light-filled central atrium, with a sweeping staircase scattered with trees.

The façade’s design was inspired by the geometric patterns found on electrical circuit boards. This design is meant to replicate the technological subject matter that will be taught within the building—but it also creates a distinctive and eye-catching landmark in Surrey’s City Centre.

Surespan Structures from Duncan B.C. supplied more than 300 façade panels. Their brilliance can be attributed to using Mexican white cement and white sand from Ontario.

 How long did it take for the building to be completed? Any challenges?

SFU took extraordinary steps to show it could meet the Strategic Investment Fund funding requirements (funding included $45 million from each of the provincial and federal governments), and actively worked with the City of Surrey to streamline the municipal approvals process. A major challenge for our builders, Bird Construction Group, was the accelerated speed needed to carry out the building’s construction to meet those requirements, a challenge they overcame with some creative oversight.

Other challenges were physical—at times the crew was only a matter of inches away from crews at another construction project underway right beside ours. And snow and rain dominated the past winters. But even with a tight timeframe from the initial announcement in November 2016, we are here, less than two-and-a-half years later, doing the finishing touches and nearly ready to open this spectacular building.

How will the space be managed, and who will use the building?

The building will be for all SFU faculty, students, staff and the community at large. 

While the building will primarily be used by students in the new Sustainable Energy Engineering program it will also be a place where any SFU students, faculty and staff will be welcome, with study spaces throughout the building. All SFU faculties will be welcome to book classes in the 400-seat lecture theatre and the multipurpose room will host Yoga, Zumba and other forms of exercise. The theatre and atrium space will be a striking location for both internal and external academic and community events.

The new building will benefit SFU, but it is also being billed as a building for the community. How so?

There will be many opportunities for the community to benefit from this new downtown space. The lecture theatre, with its space for an audience of 400, will be available for community events throughout the year. An activity space will be used for multiple purposes, including as a yoga studio. It will very much be a valued space in the downtown core—one where students will acquire new skills as sustainable engineering graduates, and where community events and activities, shows and performances, can also have a focal point—adding to the community vibe.