Case Study: Simon Fraser University


The University

The new university was envisioned as a very urban complex set on a natural mountaintop – an Acropolis for our time Erickson Massey Architects (EMA, 1963)

Type: Urban Campus

Design Competition: 1963

Planing: Mega-Structure

Architect: Erickson Massey Architects (EMA)

Established: 1965

Location: Burnaby, Surrey, Downtown Vancouver

Students 1965: 2,000

Students 2013: 35,204

Undergraduates: 29,697

Postgraduates: 5,507

Campus: Urban, 1.7 km2 (0.66 sq mi)

Founding Philosophy

SFU’s founders envisioned a distinctive institution. With its commitment to academic freedom, interdisciplinary research, community engagement, and innovative programming and pedagogy. SFU’s current vision: to be Canada’s leading community-engaged research university.

History of SFU’s Establishment

denny mcmahon photo, jack mcmahon flying over simon fraser university on burnaby mountain

A Plan for a Higher Education in B.C

The province’s system of higher education needed to provide for diversification while protecting excellence. In practical terms, British Columbia needed a variety of independence institutions to full fill a variety of functions. In 1962 John B. Macdonald’s (UBC’s 4th President) called for a second campus in Vancouver area: Burnaby College. In Macdonald’s thinking, decentralization and diversification had become essential.

Diversification: A variety of independence decentralized institutions to full fill a variety of functions.

Graduate Studies

Macdonald had in mind a special place for UBC in a decentralized system. Here would be the place of excellence. Looking across border, he saw how important graduate studies were in the U.S.

UBC’s graduate program was in the 8th place among Canadian Universities. Univeristy of California already enrolled half as many graduate students as on undergraduate studies. At Chicago, Columbia, Harvard and Yale, emphasize on graduate studies was even greater. No Canadian Univeristy came close. University of Toronto and McGill had about 1 in 10 for graduate studies, and UBC only 1 in 16.

Excellence in Undergraduate Program

At the time, forty percent of UBC undergraduate students were not returning for their second year and only half of the students admitted to UBC would graduate. This was a inefficient business model for Macdonald and he wanted to change this.

Macdonald’s Plan

Macdonald called for a hierarchy of institutions of higher education that had no Canadian precedent. A clear division between UBC and Burnaby Campus.

UBC: centerpiece with a large graduate program and research emphasis

Burnaby College (SFU) and Victoria College: Four-year, degree granting undergraduate college.

Google Map SFU and UBC

Premier Of BC William Bennett

Bennetts last election was in 1960 and his attempt for re-election in 1963 would call for two new public universities as a major part of his record. The need for higher education in B.C. Bennet had adapted Macdonald’s report. “Bennett had taken what he liked from Macdonald’s Report while ignoring major points. The report recommended four year undergraduate colleges for Burnaby and Victoria, but Bennett made them universities. (Radical Campus)

Victoria College established in 1903 was granted University of Victoria in 1963. The change in designation from college to university erased a distinction that Macdonald had wanted between the two new degree granting institutions and UBC. Neither Victoria nor the SFU accepted his idea that they should only be teaching undergraduates. More than six months after SFU’s chancellor meeting, SFU decided to have graduate studies. Gorden Shrum stated that his university was going to seek excellence in the same area as UBC. (Radical Campus)

1963 Design Competition

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Held as a design competition in 1963, Erickson Massey Architects were the early winners.  Two years later, the University opened to the first 2,000 students.

EMA’s  role included preparation of the overall master plan for a maximum student population of 18,000; co-ordination of all design work done by other architects and the design, construction documents and construction supervision of the central mall and transportation. Also included in the master plan were- classroom block (including offices), lecture theatres, 500-seat media centre and laboratories, married student and women’s residences, water tower and auxiliary structures.

Design Concept

The design concept encourages cross-fertilization of knowledge through proximity and sharing of spaces. Traditional academic facilities were broken down into a few basic types and then reassembled, not into individual enclaves; but into large clusters, allowing for a more efficient use of facilities.

The academic and social nature of the University was expressed in the creation of two large spaces linked by a linear walkway structure, which also gives access to the other components of the University. This one-building concept provides for incremental expansion which takes place always at the periphery. Extra facilities can be built as needed on a steadily expanding perimeter. The University located on the top of a small mountain presented a special siting challenge. By spreading the building out and cutting it into the hillsides in terraces, so that the University would hug the summit; building and mountain appear to be part of each other. By extending out in the form of terraces, the edges of the complex dissolve into the land form.

(Source: Arthur Erickson website)

Site Planing and Development

Plan DevelopmentMega

1963 Master Plan

The Development Plan proposed by Erickson Massey Architects (EM) for Simon Fraser University was adopted in July of 1963. That Development Plan provided the preliminary planning principles to guide development on the campus through to the 1980’s.

1990 Development

In 1990, the firm of Arthur Erickson Architects (AEA) was engaged to review and extend the original plan to provide a framework for extending the vision of the original competition winning scheme. The 1990 update built upon the fundamental planning principles established in the 1963 plan, and continues to inform and guide current and future development on the campus.

1963 Master Plan Principles 

The original master plan incorporated a very clear response to the major natural features of the site. The main circulation axis was aligned along the ridge of the hill, and sighted on the First Narrows Bridge to the west and the Fraser River Valley to the east. The most important university buildings were to be organized along the primary east-west axis, defining its major public spaces, while the “fabric” of subsidiary, more anonymous buildings extended off either side of the main axis.

Axial arrangement of spine along mountain ridge and building massing

“Linear organization of the campus, along the central mall, maintaining its axial views and enhancing its processional character.”

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The building massing, too, would be predominantly horizontal, since towers were considered inappropriate on a mountaintop, but vertical accents would provide a rhythm throughout the complex, and respond to structural needs. In this way, the entire complex would have a sense of classical repose, without excessive monotony or boredom.

Hierarchy of built form and architectural expression

“Stronger architectural statement and larger scale of buildings along the central mall, with the more ‘neutral’ architectural character and smaller scale of buildings to either side of the mall.”

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Contour Lines and Terraced Structure

Instead of simply sitting on the mountaintop, the university was to become part of it, by following the contours and creating successive terraces of building and earth. This was both visually appropriate and practical, accommodating large horizontal areas for parking and play fields and allowing expansion down the slopes on either side.

“Stepped, terraced building form, responding to the natural shape of the hill- top site, maximizing the lateral views from the mall and other upsiope build- ings, and ensuring special sensitivity in the rooftop treatment.”

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West and East Anchors 

“Balance of activity and development at the east and west ends of the campus, and integration of the residential and social areas with the academic areas of the campus.”

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 Tartan grid of interior and exterior pedestrian networks

Individual academic buildings connected by bridge links to provide for continuos interior circulation between buildings and to allow for an exterior grade level network of  courtyards and pedestrian paths.

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Academic Quadrangle

The academic quadrangle at the east end of the main axis was to occupy the highest point in the original campus, while the residential area occupied a secondary hilltop at the west end of the axis. In between, the pedestrian axis was to become an elevated bridge structure, spanning the main approach road at he transportation centre, accommodating parking and other uses in its lower levels, and minimizing the change in elevation along the main axis of the complex.

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Open Spaces

A series of major open spaces was to be created along the main axis of the campus, each differing from the others and setting the character for its zone or section of the campus. Off these, a hierarchy of smaller spaces would extend out to the fringes of the built campus.

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Faculty of Arts and Social Science

Faculty of Science

Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology

Faculty of Environment

Faculty of Applies Sciences

Faculty of Education

Faculty of Health Science

Beedie School of Business

SFU School of Business renamed Beedie School of Business in 2011


On February 9, 2011, Ryan Beedie and his father Keith donated $22 million to Simon Fraser University to establish the Beedie School of Business. SFU’s business school which was established in 1965 was renamed to Beedie School of Business upon receiving of the donation.

The donation is the largest gift that SFU has ever received and is being used as an endowment for students, professorships and research chairs with the goal to making the Beedie School of Business a global thought leader in innovation and entrepreneurship, Asia Pacific business studies, risk management and sustainability.

Ryan has also created the Ryan Beedie Annual Community Service Award – a $5,000 bursary granted on the basis academic performance and leadership and/or service at Simon Fraser University to a Faculty of Business Administration student.

Ryan Beedie

Born and raised in Burnaby B.C., he joined his father’s company, Beedie in 1993 and became President in 2001. Since 1995, Ryan has overseen the construction of more than 13 million square feet of industrial space. Today, The Beedie Group owns and manages more than 7.5 million square feet of industrial space, the largest portfolio of properties in British Columbia. Ryan holds an undergraduate business degree in accounting and finance from Simon Fraser University and an MBA in real estate from the University of British Columbia.

Other Donors

Joseph Segal 

In 2002, Joseph Segal and his family donated the former Bank of Montreal heritage building in downtown Vancouver as the home for the renamed Segal Graduate School of Business to Simon Fraser University. Segal, a Chancellor Emeritus of Simon Fraser University, has for the past two decades championed the University’s expansion into downtown Vancouver, spearheading the campaign to establish Harbour Centre. Segal is the president of Kingswood Capital which has built a merchandising empire that included Zeller’s and the Bay.

SIAS Fund from HSBC Canada and Lohn Foundation

Student Investment Advisory Service (SIAS Fund) manages over $10 million of the university’s endowment portfolio, funded by contributions from HSBC Bank of Canada and Lohn Foundation.

 1968 Protest: The student occupation of the administration offices 

In November 1968, which was Ken Strand’s fourth month in office, nearly 180 student, led by campus members of the SDU, Occupied four floors of the administrative offices, still located in the library building. Thus began SFU’s crises. The students maintained their occupation for fifty-four hours, until Strand brought in the RCMP, who cleared the building and arrested 114 students who had chosen not to leave the university. The central issue for the students who occupied the administration offices was transfer credits. They had encountered a puzzling design feature in BC’s expanded system of higher education. At SFU, as at universities throughout North America, the energy went out of student movement around 1970.

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