Making Waves With Sustainability at UBC Aquatic Centre

Published January 24, 2017

Water, water everywhere. With three pools, a hot tub, steam and sauna, drinking fountains, and 34 showers, water is at the heart of the new UBC Aquatic Centre.

Conserving water has been one of the key water management strategies for the last two decades at UBC. The University has reduced water use significantly, partly through water conservation policies for new buildings on campus. Water efficiency is integrated into all new construction at UBC. New institutional buildings must achieve a minimum LEED Gold certification, including a 30 percent reduction in water use.

Meeting those standards in a new pool facility was a considerable challenge. Pools use “a heck of a lot of energy to heat the water, they’re big empty spaces that you have to condition,” says Jay Burtwistle, Green Building Strategist with Recollective, a Vancouver-based green building consulting firm.

The sustainability factor was a challenge that the UBC Properties Trust, Recollective, the architects (MJMA and Acton Ostry) and the mechanical engineers transformed into an opportunity. Through an integrative design process, everyone at the table asked, How might it be possible to save conserve water in the new facility? What actions could the team take? What choices could make a ripple that culminate into a wave of difference that creates a better world?

The solution presented was an underground cistern tank that can store 1.3 million litres of water at one time — enough water to service the needs of the Fire Department should there be a need in the campus’ North Precinct. The large roof area captures rainwater, which will be filtered and delivered to the cistern. The cistern also collects stormwater in another chamber, helping to prevent flooding and contamination in the water ways.

Illustration by MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects in Association with Acton Ostry Architects Inc. (

Water collected from the roof is used for plumbing, landscape irrigation and pool top up. “On any given day, a pool can lose anywhere from one to five centimetres of water from evaporation. You have to constantly be adding water in,” says Jay. The rainwater innovation harvests approximately 2.7 million litres of water each year. That’s equivalent to an Olympic-size pool.

This water-saving initiative that’s unique to UBC, forged from a commitment to environmental sustainability and a careful study of place: without Southwestern British Columbia’s rainy weather, this technology wouldn’t be possible.

To meet the LEED Gold standard requirements, additional sustainability strategies were put to work. For instance, “the form of the building focused on having this really bright space with a huge skylight in the middle,” says Jay, saving energy on lighting, and flooding the natatorium with natural light during the day. Renewable materials were used throughout: approximately 30% of materials were sourced from British Columbia and Washington State.

As well, students will be able to use the UBC Aquatic Centre as an “end of trip facility,” with covered parking and showers for cyclists to rinse off before heading to class.

Says Kavie Toor, UBC Director, Facilities and Business Development, “We envisioned a world-class facility that will offer inspirational aquatic experiences for everyone from toddlers to seniors and everyone in between. A key part of our vision was also to create a facility that advances sustainability through our efforts in education, research, partnerships, and operations.”

By embracing innovative policies and programs for green buildings, we currently operate the largest portfolio of green buildings at a Canadian university. When it comes to sustainability, UBC is making ripples of change and a wave of difference — and the UBC Aquatic Centre is making a splash.

What to learn more about Green Buildings at UBC? Visit UBC Sustainability.