Brightening up SFU Burnaby campus’ aesthetics

How to make a happier and more effective environment for students


By: Anindita Gupta

Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby campus is a beautiful one — under the right conditions. SFU Burnaby campus’ chief designer, Arthur Erickson, did not design prisons for a living, but the idea that he did so is incredibly widespread, likely due to how miserable the premises look at all other times.

In the summer, the sunshine takes over the greyness of the buildings, and the warmth and the cool wind overthrow the gloom of the structures. But the weather throughout the rest of the year, full of rain, cold, and snow, combines with the brutalistic architecture to produce a dull and dreary feel.

Now, I believe that a part of “being SFU” is being able to hold onto its 52-year-old original campus’ old-world charm. Otherwise, we’d be taking away the history from the structure and our university. Having established that, I also think SFU could benefit from something of a facelift.

Senior associate dean of admission at Colgate University, Karen Long, agrees that a more encouraging environment motivates students and staff alike to develop more academic interest. It lets them “discuss ideas in a setting that’s conducive to that” rather than leave school and immediately put them from their minds.

As Long and many others note, a happier, more high-spirited campus will make students actually want to be on campus and not leave at the first opportunity given. Let’s see what SFU could do to make its first and original campus a more vibrant space.

Adding more stained glass

The steel beams and glass of Convocation Mall become incredibly sombre on a typical ‘Raincouver’ day. I’d recommend replacing the glass with stained glass — probably in red and blue hues, matching much of the campus art pieces and representing SFU’s school colours. What little sunlight we get in the darker parts of the year would play into producing a more colourful and vivid effect.

This may be a long-term project, but it’s not impossible. It doesn’t need to be very expensive either. Working on the glass could even be a fun and artistic volunteer opportunity for interested SFU students to show off their talent, or as part of a visual arts course for credit. That could be our way of contributing our vision to the school.

Repaint the buildings

On the topic of colour, more vibrant walls never hurt anyone. It doesn’t need to be an obnoxiously bright colour; a shade amidst the whites and cremes would make everything much better. If SFU wants to stick to a grey base, even a blue-grey would be much more cheerful.

Alternatively, SFU Woodwards has one great thing in common with my high school in Kenya  — bricks. Brick buildings have that old-world charm, and on a damp and low-spirited Vancouver day, a warm brick red would definitely lift the spirits of most caffeinated students.

This doesn’t mean SFU would need to demolish its concrete structures and replace them with brick. A simple brick finish paint on some or all of the campus buildings would make SFU’s environment less drab.


Beautifying doesn’t have to be limited to buildings! Landscaping is a creative way to boost positivity in any environment. The MBC field, the gardens in the AQ pond area, and the larger grassy patch around the Applied Science Building would all look much more uplifting as gardens: imagine filling them with a colourful flowerbeds, or even a couple of scattered bonsais.

These ideas seem like they could be implemented; however, the finances must be discussed with officials and authorities who understand this matter more closely. All the same, it’s worth exploring. A brighter and more lively campus, at the end of the day, would make students and staff happier than you’d think.