Academic Wood Tower

Patkau Architects + MJMA


The mass timber structure is showcased on the fully glazed north façade.

In Toronto, academic institutions are one of the leaders in championing the use of mass timber for tall buildings. The University of Toronto is part of this vanguard. Its Academic Wood Tower, on the downtown campus, is a fifteen-storey classroom and office building. At 80 metres tall, it’s vying to be North America’s tallest timber building. It’s also a test-case for new approaches that anticipate upcoming changes to the Ontario Building Code.

The structure of the Academic Wood Tower—beams, columns, decks, bracing, and notably its core—is constructed of glue-laminated mass timber. A significant portion of the timber is exposed, particularly on the fully glazed north façade. The structural system features dramatic super-braces that are tied to the core, providing lateral stability to the timber frame. The super-braces diagonally wrap the tower, while floor-height trusses negotiate shifts in the grid. The designers were able to show that a partially exposed mass timber structure introduces no more risk than conventional tower construction.

The mass timber tower sits atop a portion of an existing athletics centre.

The tower’s podium is the northern portion of the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, also by the same team of architects. At the base of the building, the structural braces divide to reconcile the six-bay wood structure of the tower with the five-bay steel structure of the Goldring Centre below. Similarly, at the event space crowning the building, the braces fan out—opening the corners to emphasize panoramic views out to the city.

The wood braces fan out to allow for uninterrupted views from a top-floor event space.

When building with timber, care must be taken to protect the structural members from fire and moisture during construction. To address this, the entire envelope of the Wood Tower is panelized for rapid construction and enclosure. Vertical joints are constructed as 100-mm reveals, while horizontal joints are hidden within a standard 50-mm open joint between board-like pieces of fibre-cement cladding.

The Academic Wood Tower links to both the Goldring Centre and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. The connective spaces between the buildings include a shared lobby, feature stair and roof terrace.

Jury Comments

Rami Bebawi :: This project is an example of excellent mass timber design in its formal, technical aspects and in dealing with urban constraints. It sets a precedent that’s convincing and serious.

Joe Lobko :: A beautiful structure which advances tall wood building design in Canada, skillfully stitched into a historic context undergoing substantial revitalization. There is masterful siting between the significant heritage building on Bloor Street and the Sport Centre to the south. A great new “City Room” is about to emerge at the top.

Cindy Wilson :: While this project is notable for pushing the envelope in mass timber construction, it remains an elegant tower. It appears the integration of systems has co-evolved, rather than resulting from an additive process. The team of client, architect and engineer are equally ambitious.



CLIENT University  of Toronto | ARCHITECT TEAM Patkau Architects—John Patkau (FRAIC), Patricia Patkau (FRAIC), Greg Boothroyd (MRAIC), David Shone (MRAIC), Roy Cloutier, Sebastian Elliott, Thomas Gaudin, Shane O’Neill. MJMA—Ted Watson (FRAIC), Andrew Filarski (MRAIC), Robert Allen (FRAIC), Viktors Jaunkalns (FRAIC), Timothy Belanger, Leland Dadson, Aaron Letki, John Peterson (FRAIC), Claudia Cozzitorto (MRAIC), Johnathan Chan. STRUCTURAL Blackwell Structural Engineers | MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL/AV/ LIGHTING Smith + Andersen | ENVELOPE RDH Building Science Inc. | SUSTAINABILITY SA Footprint | FIRE CHM Fire Consultants Ltd. | ACOUSTICS RWDI Consulting Engineers and Scientists | code David Hine Engineering Inc. | cost A.W. Hooker Associates Ltd. | AREA 11,800 m2 | BUDGET withheld | STATUS Construction Documentation | ANTICIPATED COMPLETION 2022