A Wooden Way Forwards

In Vancouver, Canada, the local community has recently been united as the University of British Columbia commences the construction of The Student Residence at Brock Commons. This major new project started in November of last year and aims to be completed by September 2017: ‘Everything is currently running to schedule’ according to John Metras, Managing Director of Infrastructure Development at the University of British Columbia. This innovative project will stand a staggering 53 metres high. The 18 storey building, when completed, will be amongst the tallest wood structures in the world. Housing approximately 400 students, the campus building will also involve numerous different local communities; from the sourcing of raw materials, to research opportunities for the UBC faculty staff and students.

This towering wooden structure will utilise an increasingly popular composition of materials. The two types of laminated timber used in the Student Residence at Brock Commons are glulam columns made with douglas fir and Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) floor panels made with SPF, (spruce, pine and fir). The wooden structure layout has been rigorously designed and reviewed to address potential risks, with the University of British Columbia evidencing a meticulous focus upon safety. John Metras described how a conservative approach was taken to the actual design and that, ‘a rigorous regulatory approval process was undertaken to ensure the safety of the building.’ The safety measures in place are extensive. Structurally, the foundation, first storey, elevator and stair cores are constructed in concrete to provide enhanced seismic reinforcement. The wooden elements of the design are encapsulated in up to three layers of fire-rated gypsum wallboard in order to provide an increased fire separation over typical building code requirements. Another measure in place for enhanced safety is a backup water tank, which is located in the basement as a contingency plan to supply the sprinkler system in the event that the main water supply becomes unavailable. Undertaken was a peer review of the building design by an independent panel, consisting of building scientists, structural engineers, fire safety experts and firefighters; overseen by the Provincial Building and Safety Standards Branch. The focus is primarily safety with this construction.

The decision to use a hybrid wood structure was not only to encourage innovation; demonstrating the practical use of wood in a high-rise building application, but was also chosen due to its environmental advantages. Wooden structural products have less embodied energy and are responsible for a lower air and water pollution output and thus have a lighter carbon footprint compared to other, more commonly used building materials. The structural wood components for the building are being manufactured in Penticton, British Columbia; using BC sourced timber, thus benefiting the local economy and reducing the carbon footprint associated with transportation of materials for the building. Also, using renewable wood products from a forest that has been responsibly managed, like the local forests of British Columbia, consequently reduces carbon atmospheric output for the longevity of the structure. As John Metras adds that the benefits continue not only for the duration of its use but, what is more, ‘even longer if the wood is further reclaimed and repurposed at the end of the building’s lifecycle.’

Furthermore, in addition to the environmental benefits from this innovative structure, the students themselves will be directly involved and learning from the project. The building will be monitored by faculty researchers and graduate students in the University of British Columbia Faculty of Forestry and Faculty of Applied Science both during the construction stage and moreover post occupancy. The sensors for these observations are being installed in the wood structure in order to measure moisture content, as well as vertical movement and vibration. The building therefore is aiding in research for the future of structural wooden constructions.

Wood structures are already being used in some of the other buildings within the UBC campus, such as the Earth Sciences Building and the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility. The Brock Commons project is thus the next step in the evolution of innovative wood structures at UBC. With success using these environmentally friendlier construction materials on previous buildings, the University of British Columbia has future projects in mind. John Metras disclosed that future projects involving substantial wood components include both the Indian Residential Schools History and Dialogue Centre, in which wood structural elements will be included, and the Sports Medicine Centre, which will not contain structural wood elements, but will however feature an exterior torched wood cladding system.

The Brock Commons project is estimated to cost 8% more than a comparable concrete building. This “innovation premium” is due to first time costs associated with research, design, approval and implementation of one of the first buildings in the world at this height. As wood structures and laminate wood compositions become more widely used they are expected to become very cost competitive with conventional building materials. The additional costs for the Brock Commons project are being funded by external agencies so will not be felt by the students who will be inhabiting the premises. The University of British Columbia has ensured that the accommodation will be rented at the same rates as current campus accommodation. Funding contributors to the project include: Natural Resources Canada (Federal Government of Canada), Province of British Columbia (Ministry of Forests, Forest Innovation Investment) and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council. Many of these benefactors are local, evidencing further the local impact of The Student Residence at Brock Commons and how invested the community is in its success.

As well as benefactors, the project’s accomplishment is reliant upon vital contractors. These include: The project’s architect Acton Ostry, Fast & Epp (structural engineer), Architekten Hermann Kaufamnn (tall wood advisor), UBC Properties Trust (project manager), GHL Consultants (fire safety/code consultant), RDH Building Science (building envelope consultant), Urban One (construction manager), Structurlam Products (supplier of engineered wood components), Seagate Structures (wood structure erection), and finally Centura Building Systems (supplier/installer of panelized envelope system).

John Metras concluded: ‘The Student Residence at Brock Commons will not only provide an outstanding facility for our student residents but will also demonstrate the use of a sustainable, locally sourced building material in an innovative application and provide an on-going research opportunity for our faculty and students’. The Student Residence at Brock Commons is clearly showing how innovation in wood structures can engage a community with research and practical construction, and with its growth in popularity, perhaps showing us a more environmentally friendly future for construction.

Source, https://evolutionbusinessmedia.com/a-wooden-way-forwards/