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UBC architects’ tall wood talk aims high

Peter Caulfield
UBC architects’ tall wood talk aims high

Wondering how the University of British Columbia (UBC) was able to erect an 18-storey, structural mass-timber student residence?
Two architects provided answers at Vancouver Buildex 2018, which took place Feb. 14 and 15 at the Vancouver Convention Centre West.

The architects are from the UBC Sustainability Initiative (UBCSI) department.

Angelique Pilon is the director of research and Zahra Teshnizi is a research project co-ordinator.

Pilon says the presentation is not aimed at wood specialists, but at anyone who is interested in mass timber.

Located in Brock Commons, a new residence area at the centre of UBC’s Vancouver campus, Tallwood House is the tallest mass-timber building in the world.

Technically, the structure is a hybrid because it contains wood, concrete and steel.

Tallwood House is home to over 400 students and opened in July 2017.
Pilon says the presentation provided an overview of the design, pre-construction and construction of Brock Commons.

Lessons-learned from the interdisciplinary research were also explored.

Topics included building code regulations, virtual design and construction modelling, design and product testing and mock-ups, prefabrication and construction sequencing, life cycle costing and performance.

Pilon says mass timber is the modern version of the heavy structural timber that was used until the first half of the 20th century on tall buildings and after that only sporadically.

“But new contemporary construction techniques and new designs have made mass timber a practical structural material for tall buildings,” Pilon says.

“And because there are more mass-timber buildings being built, there is a growing body of knowledge and experience that is advancing applications of the material.”

Structural mass timber ranks high on sustainability, says Pilon.

Less energy is used in its manufacture than other structural materials. It uses wood waste and it can be recycled at the end of a building’s useful life.

“It’s also beautiful,” Pilon says. “It responds well to light and it smells good. And it provides a strong cultural connection to the West Coast.”

With approximately 15 buildings on the Point Grey campus using mass-timber, UBC has been at the forefront of the growth of wood construction, Pilon says.

One of the first buildings on the UBC campus using mass-timber was the First Nations House of Learning. Built in 1992, it was constructed almost entirely out of wood.

In addition, structural mass timber has been used in the community centres of some residential neighbourhoods on the UBC campus.

“UBC considers Brock Commons and Tallwood House a successful project,” says Pilon.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to tell people about it.”


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