People and Place: The beating heart of UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences

Measuring 246,000 square feet and towering over the corner of Wesbrook Mall and Agronomy Road, the Pharmaceutical Sciences building is an eye-catching hub for pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences learning and research at UBC. 

The Faculty’s home for the majority of its 75-years however, was the Cunningham building, a smaller premises located across from what is now the UBC Bookstore. The Cunningham building opened in 1961 and was named after George T. Cunningham in recognition of his extensive service to UBC. 

Claudette Bell, who served as manager of administration from 1978 to 2018, reflects fondly on her time at the Cunningham building.  

“When I think of the Cunningham building, one must remember that the Faculty was severely constrained in space and creative ways had to be found to support its research and expanding educational programs. This meant that extensive renovations were initiated on an ongoing basis. However, the blessing in being constrained in space was that we would see each other frequently in the lunch room or the mailroom or in the context of coming together for hall parties,” she says. 

“These gatherings were held to celebrate all manner of events: a grant, welcoming a new graduate student class, annual holidays, birthdays! They also permitted a special time to get to know one another not only in the context of work but more generally in the context of our lives." 

With the continued growth of the Faculty over the years came the need for expanded education and research spaces.   

During his time as UBC Pharm Sci dean from 2002 to 2013, Dr. Robert (Bob) Sindelar worked tirelessly to secure funding and facilitate the new Pharmaceutical Sciences building project.  

Sindelar notes that making the building happen was one of his proudest achievements.

“Pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences education is very important for the health and economic prosperity of the province of British Columbia and the country. Thus, (moving to a larger premises) was very important for us to do.”  

He sums up this endeavor in three words: “vision into reality.”  

The Pharmaceutical Sciences building formally opened in 2012. It was made possible by an $86.4-million investment from the Province of British Columbia and the generous support of donors, including many UBC Pharm Sci alumni.  

Designed by Montreal's Saucier + Perrotte Architectes together with Vancouver’s Hughes Condon Marler, the building's design mirrors the structure of a forest. Staircases connect the floors like organic branches, while atriums fill its canopy with sunlight. The building is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certified and addresses sustainability in several key areas, including transportation, energy and water usage, and construction material.  

Of the many unique features within the Pharmaceutical Sciences building, Sindelar is most proud of the Story of Medicines exhibition. Located on the ground and mezzanine levels, the Story of Medicines is an interactive exhibition guiding visitors through the important contributions of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences to human health.   

Says Sindelar, “The planning and programming (of the Story of Medicines) engaged a wide and diverse segment of our Faculty into thinking outside of the box. Dozens of officials and decision makers came to our building for a "brief" or "quick" view of the new facility and ended up staying well beyond their original plans so that they could "play" with the Story of Medicines. They engaged with the smallest UBC faculty at the time in a new and important way.”  

 

While the Pharmaceutical Sciences building has garnered a number of awards, including a 2014 Govenor General’s Award in Architecture, it is the people who work and study inside that are the true beating heart of the Faculty.  

Bell describes UBC Pharm Sci’s people and culture as one of “genuine care and concern for others.”  

“As the now long-retired assistant dean and director, student services, Marguerite Yee stated following a tour of our new building in 2014: ‘It is not about the building, it is about the people!’ Indeed, it is all about the people, and for me this was the most rewarding aspect of my work at UBC Pharm Sci. It is a special place and what makes it special are the people – faculty, staff, students alike who are fervently committed to the pursuit of excellence,” she says. 

“To say it was inspiring to work amongst people such as these goes without saying. Among them, most particularly, were the dedicated, collegial staff that I was privileged to know and work with each day. They are truly second-to-none and together were the driving force that kept me enthusiastically engaged during my many years of service.” 

To learn more about the UBC Pharmaceutical Sciences building, click here.

Images (from top): The Pharmaceutical Sciences building during Fall; The Cunningham building; Breaking ground for the new Pharmaceutical Sciences building; The Pharmaceutical Sciences building during construction; Exploring the Story of Medicines; the Pharmaceutical Sciences building in October 2021.