UBC International House
UBC’s International House was designed by several architects, including Frank Lasserre.

Autumn means school is in full swing, and for fans of West Coast Modernism there’s no better place to experience midcentury architecture than at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Founded in 1908, UBC moved to its current Point Grey location in the 1920s where it began with only three permanent buildings. After World War II the student body tripled and continued to grow, as did new faculties and—lucky for us—the construction of several Midcentury Modern buildings, many of which are still in great condition.

Buchanan buildings UBC
A courtyard in the center of the Buchanan buildings offers open space and more modernist architecture.

A handful of our favorites can be experienced on a self-guided walking tour, which starts at the North end of the East Mall with the Buchanan complex, a beautiful cluster of International Style buildings designed by Thompson, Berwick & Pratt, 1956-58, with additions in 1960 and 1968. This 5-wing building was said to have been influenced by the architecture of Mies van der Rohe and the master plan of Illinois’ Institute of Technology.

UBC Ladner clock tower
The Ladner Clock Tower stands in a central location on campus.

Strolling South along the Main Mall you’ll take in any number of gems, including the Brutalist Ladner Clock Tower (1968, Thompson, Berwick, Pratt & Partners) built to honor the province’s pioneers, and the Frederick Lasserre Building (1962, Thompson, Berwick & Pratt) named for the UBC School of Architecture’s first director.

Lasserre himself designed the stand-out International House in 1957 (among others) as a recreational facility for international students. It sits nestled at the base of a forested corner of the campus.

UBC Science and Chemistry building
UBC Science and Chemistry building’s modernist addition.

Our final must-see—on a list which could easily include a dozen more locations—is the Science/Chemistry Building. Originally designed by Sharp & Thompson in 1914 using the gothic revival-style, the building sat unfinished for nearly 10 years (delayed by the outbreak of World War I) and was completed in 1925. The original buildings were added onto in the modernist style by Sharp & Thompson (1958-1962) with reinforced concrete and gray glazed brick.

The juxtaposition of these structures work very nicely together and are a great example of how this campus, as a whole, is cohesive despite its varying architectural styles.

The University of British Columbia offers an interactive map.


Ken MacIntyre is the creator and curator of Modtraveler.net, an Enthusiast’s Guide to Modernism. For more photos and stories of modernist destinations visit his website or follow Ken on Instagram@modtraveler.