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A reflecting pool magnifies a makeover for the arts at UBC

The award-winning pool was inspired by the Greek aphorism "know thyself".

BY ERICA YUDELMAN | AUG 06 2014
The reflecting pool at UBC’s renovated Buchanan complex has texts in 11 languages. Photo by Nic Lehoux.
The reflecting pool at UBC’s renovated Buchanan
complex has texts in 11 languages.
Photo by Nic Lehoux.

A reflecting pool at the University of British Columbia has, in a few short years, indeed become a place for reflection on campus. The pool, which surrounds a stunning white concrete pavilion, is part of the recently renovated Buchanan complex at UBC. The complex, originally built between 1958 and 1960, houses the majority of the faculty of arts’ administration and many of its departments.

In the dark reflecting pool at the base of the pavilion, white letters glow below the surface. The letters form quotations submitted by the faculty’s schools and departments in answer to a request from the pool’s lead designer, Susan Mavor of Public Architecture + Communication: a quote or phrase that struck at the core value of educating others in their field of study. The pool itself was inspired by the department of philosophy’s submission – a description of a reflecting pool in the ancient Greek temple of Apollo, the aphorism “know thyself” inscribed at its base.

The submitted texts run in arcs around the pavilion’s foundation. More than 8,000 characters set in 11 languages and seven different alphabets are arranged concentrically to mimic ripples. It is not uncommon to come across students or visitors gazing into the pool and moving slowly around it, reading.

Dean of arts Gage Averill says he immediately appreciated the pool’s value when he first started as dean midway through the courtyard’s renewal (the courtyard was officially unveiled in May 2011). He says it helps to communicate what an arts degree does for today’s students. “I think that ripple effect says we’re committed to ideas, to their impact on society; we expect them to flow outwards. We think of our students that way. We’re transforming students and they have this kind of effect on the world.”

The redesigned courtyard has won numerous national and international awards, including the Global Design Merit Award from the Society for Environmental Graphic Design in 2013 and a Lieutenant-Governor of B.C. Award in Architecture.

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  1. Byron Sampson / August 15, 2014 at 21:18

    This is a wonderful space and the description is inspiring. the metaphor of the effect the students, staff and visitors will have based on the ripples is amazing. i especially appreciate that there are so many languages included so that the impact and intention is local and far reaching.