Engineering and architecture students at six Ontario universities recently did something they don’t normally do in university — they collaborated on the design and construction of wood-frame structures as part of a 36-hour competition in downtown Toronto.
It was the third edition of TimberFever, held once a year at Ryerson University. Based on a reality TV show, the annual contest pits teams of architectural science and civil engineering students against each other in a race against time to engineer, design and build a wood structure.
TimberFever is the brainchild of David Moses, principal of Moses Structural Engineers. He sees it as a means of helping students understand the importance of the two professions working together on a design.
But it is also about working with wood.
"We recognize as an employer that the students we’re seeing out of school have almost zero exposure to designing with wood," he points out.
That has to change, he says, because increasingly wood is being specified in a wide range of buildings and building codes are opening doors to its construction in new mediums such as six-storey woodrise residential buildings.
Moses says while universities in B.C., New Brunswick and Quebec have incorporated some elements of wood construction into engineering and architectural curriculums, Ontario lags.
"In B.C. the industry is set up in a way that the trades are familiar with it, the designers are familiar with it. We are kind of missing that here (in Ontario)," he says.
Moses says contractors not used to working with wood designs are apt to price jobs high.
"We are finding that something designed in wood that would have been cost-effective in another jurisdiction, is not cost-effective here, reflecting their discomfort with it," he claims.
"I think a lot of that is about education. Any structural system or building component takes time for the entire team…to become familiar with it and to make it cost effective."
The need for collaboration between civil and architecture is crucial for a student’s career and leadership development, he says.
Ryerson engineering student Shanuja Nagarathinam was co-chair organizing this year’s TimberFever.
"Academia is certainly important but design-build projects like TimberFever help students bring what they learn in their classes to real life construction projects," says Nagarathinam, who is president of the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, Ryerson Chapter. "For example, the way structures hold their loads or how certain members need to be connected — real life design challenges like these are important to improving our understanding."
This year’s TimberFever had twice as many competing teams as the previous two because of the growing interest in the competition from other Ontario universities, says Moses.
Along with Ryerson, the University of Toronto, Carleton, Laurentian, Queen’s and Waterloo took part in the event.
He says reaching out across Ontario is a step towards a long-term goal of making TimberFever a national event.
Moses says each of the 16 teams – made up of a mix of students from different universities – were supplied dimensional lumber and plywood and challenged to engineer and build a structure that would meet a specified load and be able to withstand sway. Designs were also judged on creativity.
"If we get all of that than we know we achieved something where the students have gone beyond what they knew before they started the event," he says.
To ensure students worked properly with the tools provided, they were mentored by members of Carpenters’ Local 27, says Moses.
He adds he came up with the idea of TimberFever a few years ago when he was at a similar event in Quebec presented by Cecobois (Wood Works Quebec).
"I was looking for something as a company we could give back to the community," he states.