Mechanical and structural marvel gives lesson in resource conservation

Richmond Olympic Oval

At night the structure of the building is clearly visible: the main arches that span 100m across the sports hall spring from inclined concrete buttresses, while the gently curved roof panels soften the silhouette [photo by Hubert Kang].

by Jim Taggart

The Richmond Olympic Oval is the largest structure to be built for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games to be held in Vancouver and Whistler BC. The Oval has been designed to accommodate the Olympic long track speed-skating events with seating for 8,000 spectators, before being transformed into a multi-sports training and recreation facility after the Games. Located adjacent to the Middle Arm of the Fraser River minutes from Vancouver’s international airport, the facility will become the focus of a new residential and commercial neighbourhood.
With a plan area of 25,000 m2 and a total floor area of more than 47,000 m2 the complexities and scale of this building, and the need to reconcile them with the client’s requirement to achieve LEED Silver certification, meant that a truly integrated approach to design was essential from the outset. The process began with goal-setting meetings and continued at regular intervals throughout the project, at times bringing together a team of more than 25 consultants.
The building is arranged on three levels: a parking garage; a ground-oriented entry, circulation, service and amenity level; and above, the activity level including the main sports hall and a mezzanine for fitness. The vaulted sports hall with its 100m span, unique wood roof and expansive views north to the river and Coast Mountains is the architectural highlight of the project.
The concrete box formed by the lower floors acts as a rigid raft, and rests on shallow expanded-base piles that resist differential settlement in the poor soil conditions. This system is designed to maintain the tight tolerances of ice surface flatness required for international competition. The second floor slab connects opposing pairs of concrete buttresses that support the shallow arched roof and resist the large spreading loads that would otherwise be directed into the ground.

Wood Roof Structure

Composite glulam and steel arches spring from the tops of the inclined concrete buttresses to free span the width of the arena. Spanning between these arches is a novel pre-fabricated structural panel system, known as the WoodWave©. This system employs conventional light framing lumber harvested from forests devastated by the Mountain Pine Beetle.
Because it comes from a renewable resource, requires little energy to process, and has no toxic by-products, solid sawn lumber is by far the least energy intensive and least polluting of the major construction materials. With more than 450 panels covering the 2.5-hectare roof, the WoodWave© system has greatly expanded the understanding of what is achievable using conventional sawn lumber.
The V-shaped cross sectional geometry of the arches is maintained using a horizontal steel truss that creates a very stable structure and a hollow space inside, which conceals the main mechanical services. Holes drilled through the beams at intervals allow for the ventilating system to distribute warm or cold air as required, and for sprinkler lines and conduits to connect to branch lines concealed in the WoodWave© panels.

Mechanical Systems

The energy management is particularly challenging in this building type since the huge ice surface needs to be refrigerated and internal environmental conditions strictly controlled. The strategy has been to employ the most environmentally benign systems. The size of the building, the site constraints, and above all the requirement to maintain precise indoor temperature and humidity to provide optimal conditions for speed skating, limited the range of possibilities for solar orientation, and made the design of the envelope, particularly critical.
The mechanical team developed environmental systems that sought to maximize energy reutilization. These strategies include heat recovery from the ventilation and ice-making systems. The use of a water-based system not only permits waste heat to be transferred to domestic hot water preheating, but also allows the system to be easily adaptable to a geothermal source in the future. Excess ice plant capacity can be diverted to building cooling, and the entire building’s mechanical system can be connected to supply a contemplated district energy system, should one be developed.
Ventilation air is carried overhead, concealed within the main structural arches, and distributed with directional and adjustable nozzles, which will support future reconfiguration of the main space without the need for internal partitions. As a result, no ventilation ducting will be visible in the dramatic ceiling space. The air curtains that are created by these high velocity overhead air vents will enable different conditions of temperature and humidity [such as those required for ice and court sports] to be maintained in immediately adjacent areas of the building.
Opened in December 2008, the Richmond Olympic Oval is on track to attain the desired LEED Silver certification – a significant achievement for a building of this type. Furthermore, in legacy mode the building will bring considerable long-term economic and social benefits to the neighbourhood and region, and has reconnected the City of Richmond to its urban waterfront.

jim taggart, maibc is editor of sabmag.


  • Client City of Richmond  Architect  Cannon Design, Toronto
  • Structural Engineering Glotman Simpson, Vancouver
  • Structural Engineering [Roof including Wood Wave© Structural Panel]  Fast + Epp Partners, Vancouver
  • Electrical/Mechanical Engineering Stantec Consulting, Vancouver
  • Geotechnical Engineering Thurber Engineering Ltd, Vancouver
  • Landscape Architect Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, Vancouver
  • Building Envelope Technology Morrison Hershfield Ltd, Vancouver
  • Refrigeration Engineering Sterling Engineering Ltd, Edmonton
  • General contractor Dominion Fairmile Construction, Vancouver
  • Project Management MHPM Project Managers Inc., Vancouver
  • Developer Design/builder WoodWave© Structural Panel  Structurecraft Builders Inc., Delta, BC
  • Glulam Fabricator Structurlam Products Ltd, Penticton, BC


  • Structure Glulam and steel system, with glulam and roof support poles by Structurlam, and steel by George Third and Sons, concrete by Rempel Concrete [LeHigh Cement]
  • Exterior Series of high-span sloped curtainwall by Advanced Glazing Systems under each roof scallop, Accumet sidings by Flynn Canada Ltd., roofing membranes by Johns Manville and installed by Flynn , "German Systems Superpanel" cement board on soffits, acoustic batt insulation by Johns Mansville, and mineral wool insulation by Roxul
  • Interior Low VOC paint by Cloverdale Paint, main lighting fixtures by GE Lighting, area fixtures by Cooper Lighting,distribution system by Eaton Electrical, low voltage lighting controls by Douglas Lighting Controls, all supplied through Wesco; building controls by Delta Controls, rubber flooring by Mondo,  hardwood flooring by Centaur, carpet tile by InterfaceFLOR, tile flooring by Dal-Tile
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