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UBC’s Brock Commons rises to the top


British Columbia officially has the tallest wood building in the world. The University of British Columbia (UBC) recently announced that the mass wood structure and facade has been completed for the Brock Commons student residence — the world’s tallest wood building at 18 storeys — four months ahead of schedule.

The structure was completed less than 70 days after the prefabricated components were first delivered on site. Construction will now shift to interior elements, with completion expected in early May 2017. This is 18 per cent faster than a typical project, the university states. The building is expected to welcome more than 400 students in September 2017.

"This remarkable building, the first of its kind in the world, is another shining example of Canadian ingenuity and innovation, an apt demonstration of how Canada’s forest industry is finding new opportunities through technology and innovation — opening up a world of possibilities for our forest and construction industries," said Jim Carr, Canada’s minister of natural resources.

Carr added during his trade missions to Asia he has seen markets that are waiting for Canada’s wood technology. He also praised the sustainability of the project, noting that the building will store the equivalent carbon of removing 500 cars from the road for a year.

Brock Commons is the first mass wood, steel and concrete hybrid project taller than 14 storeys in the world. The building has a concrete podium and two concrete cores, with 17 storeys of cross-laminated-timber floors supported on glue-laminated wood columns. The cladding for the facade is made with 70 per cent wood fibre.

"Brock Commons is living proof that advanced wood products are a terrific material to build with and support efficient assembly. It also showcases new applications for B.C. lumber, leading to new job opportunities in B.C.’s forest industry," said Steve Thomson, minister of forests, lands and natural resource operations.

Other wood structure buildings on UBC’s Vancouver campus include the AMS Student Nest, the Engineering Student Centre, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Facility and the Earth Sciences building.

"This new tall wood building reflects UBC’s leadership in sustainable construction and our commitment to providing our students with more on-campus housing," said UBC president Santa Ono.

As a "living laboratory" Brock Commons will also be a source of learning through interdisciplinary research and educational projects undertaken by UBC faculty, staff and students. This includes sensors that have been installed to monitor the performance of the wood.

Ono explained that UBC is committed to working on the world’s great challenges and hopes that what is gleaned from this project can inform construction in other countries.

"The purpose is to learn as much as we can from Brock Commons," Ono added.

The project is expected to cost approximately $51.5 million, with $47.07 million financed by UBC. Being the first of its kind, it entailed an initial innovation cost and received funding from Natural Resources Canada ($2.34 million), the Province of B.C. ($1.65 million) and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council ($467,000).

"The lessons learned at Brock Commons will help transform the built environment in Canada and around the world. In fact, we are already seeing interest in the systems used here for projects in the U.S., Japan and China," said Cees de Jager, general manager of the Binational Softwood Lumber Council.

Vancouver’s Acton Ostry Architects designed the building in collaboration with structural engineer Fast + Epp, tall wood advisor Architekten Hermann Kaufmann of Austria, and Structurlam in Penticton, B.C., which provided the prefabricated wood components. UBC Properties Trust is managing the project.

Derek Nighbor, CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, saluted the new building and called it, "a beautiful example of what can be done with wood. Brock Commons shows us why building with wood offers the best of all worlds: you get the environmental and economic benefits, but it also looks spectacular."

Nighbor also commented that a student residence is the perfect choice for this landmark tall wood building and that Canadians in all regions can look forward to more of these across Canada as building codes evolve.

The building is targeting LEED Gold certification. It will exceed required fire ratings and standard seismic safety requirements.

The current runner-up for the tallest wood building is Treet in Bergen, Norway at 14 storeys. The Origine Condos in Quebec City is the next tallest in Canada. However, Brock Commons may not be tallest for long. A 24-storey tower is being planned for Vienna.

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