AMS Student Nest: the UBC Student Union Building

The heart of the campus, beating with student pride


Purposefully situated, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) Nest is the social pulsing heart of UBC. The space considers both people and place, and the LEED® Platinum certified mixed-use facility – designed in collaboration with B+H – serves the environment, promotes socialization, and is economically self-efficient. The program represents a broad range of the student-operated food, beverage, and retail services that generate income. Atypical features include an art gallery, radio station, roof-top garden, climbing wall, and numerous unstructured learning spaces.

Download PDF

Vancouver, BC
253,333 sq ft
UBC Properties Trust
LEED® Platinum certified

B+H Associated Architects
RJC Engineers
Applied Engineering Solutions

DIALOG Services

Interior Design

A student's perspective

The Nest’s final form was the result of fully involving and engaging student creativity during the design process.

Flip the design process

The project was initially awarded by the AMS student body and UBC Properties Trust through internet crowdsourcing.

Layering it with ambitions

Their collective ambitions for ideals of empowerment, advocacy, accessibility, diversity, sustainability and above all, community, could not have been realized without daily collaboration…

And novel light

A satellite design cube was placed in the old student union building for the duration of The Nest’s pre-design and build. Architects and engineers used it to activate student participation.

Engaging new tools

This, coupled with activating an online conversation through social media, finalized a design that directly responded to students’ wants and visions.

To craft a new model

A pseudo-city emerged. It was curated as an emulation of the student body’s identity and ideals, a model community that sustainably promotes human contact and inspiration.

The project was delivered from start to finish in over five years through five different client groups, as the AMS council’s torch was passed, year to year.

This kind of fluidity, and a client base with 61,000 student voices, required a design approach unlike any other.

The Nest takes shape with moveable, reconfigurable, de- / re-constructible systems that allow flexibility to respond to short-term changes over hours, days, and months.

Durable materials and non-prescriptive elements allow for adaptation to occur over longer time scales.

The Team

It’s almost a mini city in a building.

New student union building for UBC The heart of the campus, beating with student pride
The Nest Theatre

The new student union building started with The Nest, which embodied a safe and sustainable space. From this central idea, students and designers collectively conceived of the rest.

Vertical village

Rounding out the functional programming at The Nest are community rooftop gardens.

A host of food venues to keep students nourished and the economy of the building flowing.

There are numerous engaging student facilities, such as the climbing wall.

The building’s functional, sustainable architecture is simultaneously inspiring, featuring a palatial floating datum, aka The Nest. The central sky-lit atrium, known as the Agora, is flanked with floor-to-ceiling windows that run along the west of the structure. These flood the Agora with incandescence while offering views of the knoll, an external social gathering space. The tactical vibrations of wood against steel speak warmth and strength. The structural conversation is reflective of the compounded voices of UBC’s student body.

The building incorporates aspects of the Living Building Challenge, the goal of which is to encourage the creation of a regenerative built environment.

This is sustainability by very pleasing numbers. They are as follows: 2.8M litres of rainwater collection per year; 75% construction waste diversion; 64% reduction in potable water use; 57% energy savings; 50% Forest Stewardship Council-certified materials; 5% energy from solar thermal.


2016 Jury’s Choice AwardsWoodWORKS! BC
2016 Award for Excellence in the Design of Architectural WoodworkArchitectural Woodwork Manufacturers Association
2016 Awards of Excellence – Gold AwardVancouver Regional Construction Association