Sensitive preservation of a heritage architectural masterwork, the SFU Plaza Renewal fulfils the University’s vision for dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research, and far-reaching community engagement. The upgrades to the outdoor central spine, a processional route of great significance to the campus, have greatly improved users’ experience by aesthetic renewal and improvement of the campus outdoor public space.
Built in 1965, the Erickson / Massey Simon Fraser University Campus is among the most significant pieces of Canadian architecture. The Plaza serves a double function as a public space and as a roof sheltering education spaces beneath. After fifty years of use, the roofing membrane and finishes gravely needed renewal.
Burnaby Mountain’s unique microclimate produces rapid, freeze-thaw cycles. This and inadequate drainage caused the original ceramic finishes to fail. The design team addressed this challenge with a permeable paving system and replacement of existing clay tiles with Canadian granite.
The original creation of SFU’s iconic Burnaby campus plan was a truly integrated design process: The Plaza and Main Mall were designed by Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey so that the significant architectural pieces designed by other firms – the Academic Quadrangle by Zoltan Kiss, the Science Complex by Rhone and Iredale, the Theatre and Gymnasium by Duncan McNab and Associates, the Library by Robert Harrison – would plug directly into the main pedestrian arterial and form a cohesive whole. Now, nearly 55 years later, the renewal involves as many firms working side-by-side on different portions of the campus aiming for alignment where their efforts meet and a continuation of the spirit and vision of the time.
Breathing new life into an historic public space sets a precedent for renewal over replacement and also preserves important cultural heritage of the 1960s with its inspired goals of dialogue, interdisciplinary work, and landscape integration for future generations.
This project provided a rare opportunity to comprehensively improve the public realm, including updates to surfaces, lighting, stairway finishes, railings, site furniture, and plantings. In addition, the renewal respects the formal ceremonial nature of Convocation Mall while providing increased opportunities for day-to-day users to gather, linger, and connect informally.
Minimal intervention complicated the project: Existing door, window, and stair thresholds allowed no more than 3.5 inches of build-up on top of the existing structure. To support service trucks, the Plaza required a fully-grouted—rather than a conventional, pedestal-supported—finish. The two-level drainage system allows rain-water egress by surface drains and via a permeable mortar system (epoxy and birds-eye gravel matrix), allowing water to run right through to the membrane beneath.
Architectural practice is at the beginning of untangling the complexities of ageing historic concrete. The SFU Plaza project has helped advance research focused on concrete conservation (for example, the performance testing of full-scale, in-situ roof-assembly mock-ups, bi-level drainage, and new grouting materials and systems). In addition, the design strategies developed for the SFU Plaza renewal and research results support the efforts of others preserving post-war architectural works of cultural significance, including other Modernist campuses. The renewal doubled the life of the masterwork SFU Burnaby campus.