Canada “Tops Out” Tallest Wood-Frame Building In The World

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Originally published on Green Building Elements.

Celebrating the tallest wood-frame building of its kind anywhere in the world, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr recently attended the “topping out” ceremony of the Brock Commons Residence.

The new University of British Columbia student housing tower rises 18 stories to reach a stunning 178.8 feet (53 meters) tall.

Under construction at the University of British Columbia Point Grey campus, the CA$51.5 million mass timber structure is a hybrid system comprised of cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor slabs, glulam columns, steel connectors, and concrete cores. On target to achieve LEED Gold certification, the building structure was completed less than 70 days after delivery of prefabricated components to the site.

Construction will now turn to completing the building’s interior elements, with completion scheduled for early May 2017, approximately four months (or 18 percent) faster than standard high-rise projects.

Expected to welcome students in September 2017, the UBC Brock Commons Residence will house 404 students in 33 four-bedroom units and 272 studio units. Upper year and Grad students will enjoy study and social gathering spaces in the building, and commuter students will also enjoy a beautiful lounge and study space on the ground floor.

Minister Carr stated, “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.”

Brock Commons west aerial view. Credit: Acton Ostry Architects, Inc.

Canada’s High-Value, High-Tech Solution to Global Warming

By using wood in the construction of UBC’s Brock Commons, the new student residence will store over 1,750 metric tons of global-warming related greenhouse gasses. This is roughly the same as removing 511 cars from Canadian roads every year.

Recognizing forestry’s central role in an innovative fight against climate change, the Canadian government is promoting the country’s richest natural resource as a high-value, high-tech solution.

By launching the Tall Wood Building Demonstration Initiative, Canada is actively working to expand the North American market for Canadian wood products, especially for use in wood-frame construction.

With the use of advanced wood technologies, wood has become a highly practical and sustainable construction material for tall buildings. New mass timber products, including cross-laminated timber, glued laminated timber, and structural composite lumber is helping the construction industry design new buildings at heights never before imagined possible.

Prefab panel construction. Credit: Acton Ostry Architects, Inc.
Prefab panel construction. Credit: Acton Ostry Architects, Inc.

Innovative wood-based products are leading to new structural solutions that also underscore the practicality and environmental benefits of constructing taller and larger buildings with wood. Prior to 2015, however, the typical height of wood buildings allowed by the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) was not greater than four stories. Now, new research linking scientific advances with technical expertise is promoting changes to the NBCC.

Since 2007, Canada’s national forest research institute, FPInnovations, has been collaborating with the Canadian Wood Council (CWC) and the National Research Council to develop technical information supporting changes to the NBCC.

The collaboration team focused first on evaluating fire, acoustics, and building envelope performance of a range of multi-story wood-based building assemblies and systems.

As of 2014, the provinces of British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario, as well as the City of Calgary, have amended building codes to allow alternative solutions for wood-frame buildings of up to six stories tall.

The Rising Market for Tall Wood Buildings

Building components made with wood can be prefabricated and are easy to assemble. Wood is also cost-effective, highly sustainable, and environmentally friendly. These factors are motivating municipal governments to mitigate urban sprawl by promoting taller and denser wood-frame housing developments.

Stakeholders in the Canadian wood industry have indicated strong interest in designing and constructing wood buildings of 10 stories or higher, prompting Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) to invest CA$5 million to support several projects. A review panel of Canadian architects, engineers, forestry executives, and research scientists ranked eight proposals and shortlisted three for development.

An additional CA$1 million investment came in from the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, and the provinces of British Columbia and Quebec also provided governmental funding for shortlisted projects now being constructed within their boundaries.

Brock Commons topping off celebration occurred on 15 Sept 2016. Credit: Acton Ostry Architects, Inc.
Brock Commons topping off celebration occurred on 15 Sept 2016. Credit: Acton Ostry Architects, Inc.

Canada Achieves the World’s Tallest Wood-Frame Building

Among the three shortlisted tall wood projects in Canada’s Tall Wood Building Demonstration Initiative were the 18-story UBC Brock Commons Residence in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a 13-story mixed-use highrise in Quebec City called the Origine.

Prior to the recent topping out of UBC’s Brock Commons, a 14-story tall wood residence in Norway held the title as the world’s tallest wood-frame high-rise building.

Mohammad Mohammad, a research leader with FPInnovations and senior research advisor with NRCan states that tall wood buildings are now viable because of new mass timber engineered wood products, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), laminated strand lumber (LSL), and laminated veneer lumber (LVL).

Speaking at the latest Wood Solutions Fair conference in Toronto, Mohammad noted that mass timber engineered wood products enables taller wood buildings to meet key design distinctions, including more stringent fire and structural requirements.

Mohammad explained that buildings taller than six stories can now be approved under “alternative solutions,” if designers demonstrate that their tall wood buildings “meet or exceed the performance requirements of non-combustible steel or concrete highrises.”

Although research and development efforts to demonstrate these performance requirements are costly and time-consuming, Mohammad notes that the NRCan is offering partnerships with private industry and provincial governmental agencies to help offset costs.

This “will help make their wood designs competitive with concrete or steel,” says Mohammad.

Pushing the Heights of Wood Buildings. Credit: Natural Resources Canada
Pushing the Heights of Wood Buildings. Credit: Natural Resources Canada

Reprinted with permission.

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Aisha Abdelhamid

is a freelance lifestyle and environmental science writer currently living in Vancouver, BC. Her interests include environmental conservation, climate science, renewable energy, faith-based environmental activism, green building, creative lifestyles, and healthy living.

Aisha Abdelhamid has 59 posts and counting. See all posts by Aisha Abdelhamid