The Tall and the Small

The Nano

140 square feet of student living

Roughly the size of a parking space, yet with all the basic amenities of a full-size apartment, the Nano is a micro suite intended to help address the demand for affordable student housing on UBC’s Vancouver campus. In an innovative pilot program, 70 such suites are being included in the planned 650-bed Gage South Student Residence. When the building is completed in 2019, the Nano suites will rent for around $700 per month.

Although tiny, the self-contained Nano has a full bathroom, kitchen, storage space and a study/sleeping space with a work desk that transforms into a bed. It’s a bit smaller than a single traditional dorm room, but, unlike a dorm room, there’s no “sharesies” – it’s 140 square feet of independent living. UBC sought input from students and worked closely with the architecture firm DIALOG throughout the design process.

While the Nano may not be for everyone, it was well received by students who toured the full-scale mock-up on display earlier this year at the AMS Nest, says Andrew Parr, managing director of Student Housing and Hospitality Services. “What we’ve seen from the survey results is a huge level of acceptance among students to live in an environment like that, for that price.”

With apartment vacancy rates throughout the Lower Mainland at less than one per cent, finding an affordable rental in Vancouver – let alone one close to campus – is a significant challenge. Apartments in the same price range as campus accommodation are about a 45-minute commute away, says Parr. UBC already has the largest on-campus residence in Canada and, unless the current housing situation in Vancouver changes, the demand for student housing on the Vancouver campus is likely to remain high.

The Nano project is part of UBC’s ongoing commitment to meet the demand. The university’s investment of $500 million dollars over 10 years will result in a total growth of 4,300 beds. “I know there’s no other university in Canada that’s investing in housing like we are,” says Parr, who believes this commitment illustrates how UBC is listening to students’ demands and working to meet them, not only through its investment in housing, but also through the types of housing on offer.

For a virtual walk-through of the Nano suite, visit

A full-scale mock-up of the Nano suite was on display earlier this year at the AMS Nest. (Photos: Sam Pat)

Brock Commons student residence…

West elevation of tower
West elevation of tower

…will be the world’s tallest contemporary mass wood building.

What, Where, When

  • 18-storey wood and concrete hi-rise (174 feet/53 metres)
  • 272 studios and 33 four-bedroom units (404 students)
  • Site: Walter Gage Road, between Brock Hall and Gage Residence
  • Completion: Summer 2017 (Budget: $51.5M)

Design & Structure

  • The innovative design capitalizes on advances in wood technology and manufacturing.
  • Hybrid structural system: one-storey concrete podium, two concrete cores, and 17 storeys of mass timber. Vertical loads are carried by the timber structure, while the two concrete cores provide lateral stability.
  • A key mandate for the project is to demonstrate an economical structural system using wood and concrete that is comparable in cost to that of traditional concrete and steel structures.


  • The design of the structure will be the first in BC to meet the new seismic design requirements under Canada’s National Building Code.
  • At three times the current height limit permitted by the building code for wood buildings, the structure required a Site Specific Regulation (SSR) from the BC Building Safety & Standards Branch. This process included peer reviews involving panels of leading structural engineers, fire safety experts, scientists, UBC building authorities, and firefighters.
Southeast View
Southeast View


  • Wood is a sustainable and versatile building material that stores, rather than emits, carbon dioxide. Carbon stored in the mass timber structure, plus avoided greenhouse gas emissions from construction processes using steel and concrete, will result in a total estimated carbon benefit of 2,563 tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to taking 490 cars off the road for a year.
  • The building will connect to the UBC district energy system and is projected to achieve up to 25 per cent energy savings over a typical building of the same use.
  • The project is aiming for (at minimum) a *LEED Gold certification (*rating system for environmentally‑friendly design and energy use).

Source: Acton Ostry (architects)

[icon type=file-pdf-o] More information on Brock Commons from Acton Ostry Architects Inc. (PDF)


Images courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects Inc. & University of British Columbia.


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