UBC Campus Landscape Architect

The Main Mall at the University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory
The Main Mall at the University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

This article is republished from the February 2013 Sitelines newsletter, published by the British Columbia Society of Landscape Architects. The original version of this article can be found in the Sitelines archive.

Perhaps it is just the passing of 20 years but I don’t have much recollection of the campus where I got my degree in landscape architecture. I have happy memories of plant identification tours around the University of Guelph campus with Professor Lumis – but not any strong memories of what it looked like or felt like. This contrasts with my fond memories of the University of Toronto campus where I received my undergraduate degree – its ivy-covered buildings, the broad lawn of King’s College Circle and the quad at University College to name just a few. My recollection of the important role that the campus landscape played in creating positive and memorable experiences now helps inform my role as Campus Landscape Architect for the University of British Columbia.

Buchanan Courtyard stormwater feature image: Dean Gregory
Buchanan Courtyard stormwater feature
image: Dean Gregory

An Exciting Professional Challenge

Since 2009, my primary responsibility has been to lead the revitalization of the campus through a $46 million Public Realm Plan. More than a simple beautification project, the plan’s objectives are to create a campus landscape that:

  • Animates, invigorates, and brings life to campus.
  • Enhances the educational experience with outdoor learning opportunities and environments.
  • Promotes the sharing of ideas, creative expression, and interaction across disciplines.
  • Supports and nurtures the physical and mental health of students, faculty, and staff.
  • Instills pride and a strong sense of place.
  • Is economically sustainable and well utilized by the community.
Buchanan Courtyard furnishings image: Dean Gregory
Buchanan Courtyard furnishings
image: Dean Gregory

One of my chief roles is to foster synergies and opportunities among the many individuals and groups involved in campus decision making. I approve landscape-related development applications in accordance with university policies and guidelines. I also contribute to any policy initiatives related to campus landscape architecture. I am not the designer of the landscape per se, but I do hold the conductor’s stick as it were and make sure that everyone is playing the same tune. One of the greatest pleasures of my job is the opportunity to work with many talented private practice landscape architects and architects.

University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory
The University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

Collaborating with Experts

Designing and implementing landscape works for a university campus is uniquely challenging. Especially in the context of a diverse constituency, branding strategy, academic interests, and history, university landscapes are legacy works—they are going to be around for a long time and they are incremental in their effect. Each project is built not only for today but in response to past decisions and for the future.

Each project has an obligation to strengthen the existing fabric of the larger campus landscape. While there are many aspirations, it is important to remember that any one project does not have to be and do everything. Many projects are more about editing and repairing than creating new experiences.

Beaty Courtyard image: Dean Gregory
Beaty Courtyard
image: Dean Gregory

Another unique aspect of project work at UBC is that, unlike a municipality, we have no property lines within our boundaries. This has a big influence on how designers should think about their individual projects. There is an opportunity for consultants to think more broadly and deeply—to look for bigger opportunities and synergies within the larger campus.

The campus community meanwhile is looking at the landscape with a critical eye and a heightened concern about the environment, including energy and materials, stormwater management, water usage, irrigation, etc. The challenge is to address these issues with a respect for classic campus typologies, history, and maintenance resources.

University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory
The University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

Major Campus Accomplishments

We have achieved a lot in four years:

  • Removing road asphalt and curbs on Main Mall, University Boulevard, Agricultural Road, and Memorial Road.
  • Transforming the campus core into a pedestrian and bicycle only zone. Enhancing the usability of outdoor spaces by providing furnishings such as tables and a variety of comfortable seating opportunities that enable people to do outdoors as much of what they are doing indoors during as much of the year as possible.
  • Adding benches and a water feature on Main Mall, UBC’s iconic landscape, transforming a mere right of way into a place to go—a place to talk, relax, read, and celebrate.
  • Modeling environmental best practices through beautifully designed stormwater management features.
  • Working with architects to create greater transparency and physical porosity between buildings and landscape.
  • Not least important, we are applying a standard set of hard and soft landscape treatments that has resulted in a sorely needed sense of unity across the campus.

Within this framework, I believe that we are preserving, developing, and celebrating the best aspects of the University.

Health Sciences Courtyard sidewalks image: Dean Gregory
Health Sciences Courtyard sidewalks
image: Dean Gregory

An Exciting Future

UBC’s campus is young. We are evolving into a beautiful community, a sustainable community, a complete community where people live, study, work, and play. As the dust literally begins to settle on all of the recently completed improvements, I am aware of all the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead—the Sustainable Sites Initiative, LEED® for campuses, regenerative sustainability, consequences from densification, pedestrian/cyclist conflicts, urban agriculture, and irrigation from non-potable sources to name a few. For me, it is a great time to be Campus Landscape Architect.

University of British Columbia image: Dean Gregory
The University of British Columbia
image: Dean Gregory

by Dean Gregory, ASLA, MBCSLA, LEED® AP, UBC Campus Landscape Architect and Campus Planning and Design PPN Chair

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