Mainstreaming Mass Wood Construction

Lessons from Brock Commons

At 18 storeys and 53 metres in height, Brock Commons Tallwood House is a 404-bed student
residence building located on The University of British Columbia Point Grey campus in Vancouver,  that officially opened for students in July of 2017. The project is the first to be completed in Canada under the 2013 Tall Wood Building Demonstration Project Initiative sponsored by Natural
Resources Canada.

By Russell Acton

At 18 storeys and 53 metres in height, Brock Commons Tallwood House is a 404-bed student residence building located on The University of British Columbia Point Grey campus in Vancouver,  that officially opened for students in July of 2017. The project is the first to be completed in Canada under the 2013 Tall Wood Building Demonstration Project Initiative sponsored by Natural Resources Canada.

Brock Commons aspires to be a model for a future that features extraordinarily ordinary mass wood buildings that are quick, clean and cost effective to construct and which maximize carbon sequestration and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in cities.
The building is extraordinary for its height—which makes Brock Commons the world’s current tallest mass timber tower—the building is also extraordinary for the speed at which its structure of glue laminated timber, cross laminated timber [CLT], and prefabricated facade went up in only 66 days. At 2,233 cubic metres, the building utilizes an extraordinary amount of timber that stores an impressive 1,753 metric tons of carbon dioxide and avoids the production of 679 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions associated with a concrete equivalent. Another extraordinary achievement is that the innovative project demonstrates that a mass wood building can be comparable in cost to a traditional concrete building.

To make the building possible the provincial government of British Columbia issued a site-specific regulation that allowed Brock Commons to use mass timber in a high-rise application, which resulted in a building that is even more resistant to fire than an equivalent concrete or steel tower. Key to receiving approvals and realizing economic viability for the timber tower was a ‘keep it simple’ design approach that makes the building appear ordinary—extraordinarily ordinary—through the encapsulation of the wood structure with gypsum board.

With all the attention the building has received from the architectural media, this ‘ordinariness’ has largely been overlooked. In fact, we have often been criticized for not exposing the wood, as if covering the structure with drywall was somehow dishonest.
The truth is, had we tried to expose the wood, and prove its performance through fire-simulation modelling, the building could not have been built within the tight schedule or the available budget.

The research done for this project suggests that an exposed wood structure is more than twice the cost of an encapsulated one. However, the realities go beyond the straightforward comparison of structural costs to include the additional costs of running exposed services, and the kid-gloves handling required on site for any mass wood component that is also to be exposed as a finish material. The time and effort required upfront to achieve successful results also adds to the cost.

All this results in a premium few clients would be prepared to pay however committed to sustainability they might be. So common sense suggests that the interests of sustainability would be better served by mass wood buildings that are cost competitive, therefore more attractive and accessible to developers. With this affordable and replicable approach, we would be building far more mass wood buildings, using far more wood and storing far more carbon dioxide than would be achieved with the construction of fewer and more expensive, exposed wood solutions.

Russell Acton Architect, AIBC AAA SAA OAA FRAIC, is a Principal at Acton Ostry Architects.

  • PROJECT CREDITS
    Architect Acton Ostry Architects Inc.
    Owner University of British Columbia
    Tall Wood Advisor Architekten Hermann Kaufmann ZT GmbH
    Structural Fast + Epp
    Fire Science & Building Code GHL Consultants Ltd.
    Building Science RDH Building Science
    Mechanical, Electrical & Sustainability Stantec
    Mass Wood Erection Seagate Structures
    Mass Wood Supply Structurlam
    Concrete Formwork Whitewater Concrete Ltd.
    Virtual Modelling Cadmakers Inc.
    Energy Modelling EnerSys Analytics Inc.
    Acoustics RWDI
    Landscape Hapa Collaborative
    Civil Kamps Engineering Limited
    Geotechnical Geopacific Consultants Inc.
    Construction Management Urban One Builders
    Development Management UBC Properties Trust
    Photos Michael Elkan, KK Law, Pollux Chung, Steven Errico

SUBSCRIBE TO THE DIGITAL OR PRINT ISSUE OF SABMAGAZINE FOR THE FULL VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE.

Print this article | Send by e-mail

Comments are closed.