Durable Solutions for Arts and Culture at the Science Undergraduate Society

In a course on policy analysis during my Master’s programme, my class had the opportunity to work on a major project with UBC Sustainability on implementing sustainable initiatives within the various undergraduate societies on campus. My group specifically worked with the Science Undergraduate Society (SUS) on revamping the interior design of the Abdul Ladha building, the central hub for over 8000 science students at UBC.

Our project had two main tasks. The first was to introduce a plan on overhauling Ladha’s interior decor and furnishing, as the building was left in a state of neglect with little visual appeal due to poor upkeep over the years. Secondly, we drafted an arts and cultural policy mandate to give the SUS an effective process in adding new artistic designs and displays in the future.

Existing Issues

To kick off the project, our team first began with a site visit to Ladha. Upon inspection and hearing testimonials from current science students, the building was clearly in a state of disarray. The takeaways from our first visit can be summed up with the three main issues we identified.

  • Storage space is cluttered with unused and abandoned items
  • Dim lighting and cold temperatures
  • Drab décor and dilapidated furniture

Overall, the student space was devoid of character and community, which we thought was a primary factor in which there was little motivation to maintain the building in the first place. The building was not old—its facilities were still working well and also had a great view of the campus’ main plaza. We thought it would be a major shame to let a building of this calibre go to waste, and began developing our project plan.

Initially we had to consider, how was this space being used? What were the core values and criteria to evaluate this problem? What exactly was the problem? Was it really about beautification? Or was it something deeper, such as understanding how we perceive space, how it is commonly used and how we could use it?

SUS Arts and Cultural Policy

We identified the underlying problem as the SUS not having an inclusive arts and cultural policy statement to help guide a mandate or vision of beautifying the building.

To ensure that the revamped building would enjoy cultural and social sustainability, we ultimately recommended and drafted an Inclusive Arts and Culture Policy Statement that would guide future science student societies when they decide to redesign the interior or implement new art displays. The mandate included provisions on vision-building, inclusive policies, committee formation from the student body, and a dispute resolution process.

At the same time, we also connected the SUS to multiple individuals and organizations that may be interested in making artistic contributions to Ladha. They included faculty and students in the creative writing and fine arts departments, as well as art galleries across campus. We suggested additions such as ‘a student of the month,’ where a profile of a science student with recent achievements would be put on an art display, or a gallery that showcases the projects of science students as well. We believe that having students actively contribute to the visuals of the building will better allow its users to feel like they are a part of the community. In the long run, this ensures that there would be greater care and maintenance to the building.

Acquiring New Furniture

We sought to replace most of the current furniture in the building, as most of them were already in poor shape. We advised the SUS on bulk buying from IKEA as they offered the sturdiest and most versatile furniture for the best price, while also being deeply committed to sustainability.  Currently IKEA makes 80 percent of all furniture from recycled material and aim to have 100 percent of all furniture made from recycled goods by 2030 according to their 2018 sustainability report. We also suggested that IKEA furniture could foster community building if the SUS chose to host a social (IKEA building parties!) where science students could help build the newly purchased furniture. For the building to have a more natural and refreshing look, we also recommended the SUS to purchase an assortment of plants as a part of the building’s interior decor.

Japanese Notion of Space

In Japanese culture, space is not just an empty room, but rather an extension of values, culture and the relationships between people. With that in mind, and throughout our analysis of decor, furniture, in creating a policy statement and through our observations we considered all of these questions as well.

  • Does the space foster positive relations? Is the building welcoming or hostile?
  • Does the space foster the free flow of knowledge? How easy is it for people to collaborate and exchange ideas?
  • What role does Ladha play in its location on campus? What features should the building have based on its location?
  • Does the building provide space for people to concentrate, to focus, for a moment alone?

Envisioning the above dynamics when creating a new space is pivotal to its effectiveness and longevity. While we the users are the space’s designers, the initial atmosphere and layout we bring to it eventually affects our behaviour when using that space. Winston Churchill sums it up in this noteworthy quote, that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards, our buildings shape us.”

Wrapping Up

The deliverables we made from this project were:

  • Drafting a Policy Statement for the SUS
  • Providing a cost-benefit analysis integrated into a recommended furniture package
  • Creating a preliminary creative network hub across campus
  • Providing and weight decor options

This was all incorporated into a report submitted to the SUS executive.  As the building was scheduled to be closed at the end of April until the next school year started we could not go further in our recommendations to the implementation phase of our policy proposal. Although it was disappointing that our group will not have the opportunity to implement our recommendations, we enjoyed the process in interacting with all stakeholders in this project to produce sound policy solutions, and we are looking forward to seeing the new building with our recommendations implemented.


This post has also been published on The Pub, the online magazine authored by Master students at the UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs (SPPGA).

Above Photo: The Abdul Ladha Science Student Centre (UBC)

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