UBC Aquatic Centre

Architect: MJMA & Acton Ostry Architects

Owner: The University of British Columbia / UBC Properties Trust

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Award of Merit

How can the new aquatic centre effectively train Olympians, serve its community, and enhance the student experience? How can it operate learn-to-swim programs while at the same time run a 1000-person swim meet?

In 2012, UBC sent more swimmers to the London Olympic summer games than anywhere else in Canada, sporting the most successful swim team in the country. Meanwhile, the explosive market-driven expansion of the endowment lands and burgeoning campus community, created the fastest growing youth and family population in Vancouver's lower mainland. The new aquatic centre was required to meet the needs of both these groups with a high-performance training/competition venue and a community aquatic centre, all within a single facility. The aquatic centre was also required to actively engage the public realm and contribute to ongoing campus life and the greater student experience.

"Scale of the roof and the pools work in harmony -hard to make something that big and pull it off." ~ Jury comment

The UBC Aquatic Centre's 85,000 square-foot program includes a 51-metre FINA basin, a 25-meter diving well with moveable floor and a warm-water leisure basin. The plan was divided north-south into four program bars: changerooms, community aquatics, competition aquatics and spectator bleachers. The new facility is fully accessible and inclusive, provides ideal acoustics for coaching communication and training activities, and purposefully sourced all finishes and systems for durability and ease of maintenance, all while visually symbolizing the eminent venue of international competition.

The requirement to co-program elite level training and competition with daily community use led to a two sided pool hall divided by Y-shaped columns and a continuous skylight bisecting the building across its length. In section, the translucent screen creates a luminous barrier between the two spaces, reflecting abundant sunlight into the leisure side, while providing controlled and balanced light into the competition side.

The project achieved LEED Gold certification and is pursuing the campus' “regenerative neighbourhood” goals through systems integration with new campus infrastructure developments. The project focuses on daylighting, innovative water re-use and air quality strategies that are precedent-setting for North American aquatic facilities.


A three-compartment cistern stores water from the roof and adjacent transit plaza. The water tops-up evaporative loss in the basins, and provides for both grey water flushing and the site's irrigation system.  


Chloramine-contaminated air is scoured from the water surface through concentrated air flow delivered from a central bench structure, returning to the upper edge of the perimeter pool gutters. Developed in coordination with on-campus research, this system provides exceptional natatorium air quality and mitigates the recurring problem of swimmer’s asthma.


The sectional split brings light deep into the center of the natatorium plan where it is reflected or diffused to provide the required natural lighting conditions. A continuous ceramic-fritted glazing band spans three of the facility's elevations, while sensors for zoned lighting control intuitively respond to maximize natural light.

Additional information

Engineer - Building Envelope: Spratt Emanuel Engineering Ltd.

Engineer - Civil: Kamps Engineering Ltd.

Engineer - Electrical: Applied Engineering Solutions Ltd.  

Engineer - Mechanical: AME Consulting Group Ltd.

Engineer - Structural: Equilibrium Consulting Inc.

General Contractor: Heatherbrae Inc.

Interior Design: MJMA / Acton Ostry Architects

Landscape Architect: PFS Studio / MJMA

Sustainability Consultant: Recollective  


Michael A. Nieminen, FAIA, (2019 Chair), Kliment Halsband Architects, New York, NY

Meryati Johari Blackwell, AIA, Marlon Blackwell Architects, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Jason Forney AIA, Bruner/Cott Architects, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Kim Tanzer, FAIA, Gainesville, Florida

JoAnn Hindmarsh Wilcox, AIA, Mahlum Architects, Seattle, WA

Image credits

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre-03 R

Shai Gil

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre-02 R

Shai Gil

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre-04 R

Ema Peter

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre-05 R

Ema Peter

University of British Columbia Aquatic Centre-06 R

Ema Peter