Acknowledgements: UBC Properties Trust; Perkins+Will – Rufina Wu; Lawrence Weiner.

  • Brand Guidelines
  • Brand Innovation
  • Brand Strategy
  • Environmental and Signage Program
  • Graphic Systems


University Properties Trust of UBC requested conceptual design and a new brand narrative for the new Student Union Building on campus – The Life Building.

Architecturally, the new building maintains its bold, ribbed facade, and exposed waffle slab roof, and creates a new open-concept experience for the student and visitor. The signage program and its thinking needed to point to the future, yet carry-forward the ethos of the 5-decade-old building. The building both supports and facilitates the student’s needs, and compared to its previous model, now consolidates most of the student requirements into a nucleus-like centre. The building is about discovery, empowerment, wellbeing and fun.

The Life Building differentiates from other structures on campus as its student-driven and operated, and not an institutional building. Its opaque-feeling facade has also historically left the building optically removed and separated from the rest of student life. These two traits of the structure lead us to recommending a brand story and experience that is unique to itself, and not adhering to the parent brand of UBC, but analogous to it. As well, the program would be experienced not just in the building, but peripheral and outside its footprint – The Life Building experience for the student would be discreetly breadcrumbed throughout the campus, thus redefining the previously fixed perimeter of the structure. With this in mind the ribbed facade entrance section are marked with a new vertical banding system that illuminates and carries with it, up-close typographical messages; this treatment reinvents the old.

Inspired by the the prominent waffle slab roof, a graphic square grid is mirrored in the floor experience. This new graphic canvas enables the publishing of changing ideas and messaging while also recognizing the past architecture. Oversized, sculpture-like typography at the main entrances is a notable feature in the new program.

In public environments such as airports and train stations, the user requires clear and immediate communication from any given sign. Contrastingly, the Life Building is a thoroughfare, where students will visit the space hundreds of times annually. Respecting and encouraging the intellect of the student, the Life Building’s messaging includes experience-signage that promotes agency and critical thinking through word play, ambiguity and personal interpretation.