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University of British Columbia’s Brock Commons project reaches new heights


September 21, 2016
by Canadian Architect

Last wood panel arrives on the 18th storey of the World’s Tallest Timber Building in preparation for final installation in Vancouver on August 9, 2016. Building slated to open mid-2017.

Last wood panel arrives on the 18th storey of the World’s Tallest Timber Building in preparation for final installation in Vancouver on August 9, 2016. Building slated to open mid-2017.

A “Topping Out” celebration was held on September 15, 2016 for the completion of the mass wood structure and façade at the UBC’s Brock Commons student residence—the world’s tallest wood building at 18 storeys (53 metres, about 174 feet)—four months ahead of schedule, showcasing the advantages of building with wood.

The structure was completed less than 70 days after the prefabricated components were first delivered to the site. Construction will now focus on interior elements, with completion expected in early May 2017—18 per cent (or four months) faster than a typical project. The building is expected to welcome more than 400 students in September 2017.

Brock Commons is an engineering achievement that can be attributed first to simplicity; second to modularity; and third to the use of cross laminated timber (CLT). The result is a design that is simple to replicate, cost-efficient due to shortened timelines and environmentally desirable. With some modifications, it could be used for commercial, residential and other applications.

To comply with university planning requirements, Vancouver-based Acton Ostry Architects established a design that reflects the character of international style Modernist buildings on the UBC campus. The base is wrapped with curtain wall glazing, coloured glass spandrel panels and transparent coloured glass. An extensive CLT canopy runs the length of the building. The façade is made up of 22 prefabricated panels with typical panels measuring eight metres in length. There are four distinct L-shaped corner panels with corner-wrapping windows. The prefab panels are made up of steel stud framed sections with pre-installed windows and a high-pressure laminate cladding consisting of 70 per cent wood-based fibres and thermosetting resins.

The simplicity of the structural design eliminates the need for the usual supporting beams – just flat timber panels stacked on wood posts are being used. Achieving the high degree of modularity and connectivity ensures optimal manufacturing efficiency and speedy construction. The CLT – a recent innovation that has been proven to be strong and dimensionally stable with favourable fire resistance qualities so that it can compete with concrete and steel – delivers environmental benefits.  

Tall wood buildings are not a new concept – with 19-storey wood pagodas built and still standing in Japan and China as far back as 1,400 years ago. There are many contemporary examples as well with taller buildings built within the past five years in Australia, Austria, England, Italy, Norway and Switzerland. While there are numerous other ambitious tall timber structure projects under consideration around the world – Paris, Vienna, for instance – the UBC Brock Commons building in Vancouver will be the tallest building in the world to be completed. Ultimately, examples such as Brock Commons offer increasingly compelling data for the building code changes necessary to make the construction of these innovative buildings more common.

As a “living laboratory,” Brock Commons will be a source of learning through interdisciplinary research and educational projects undertaken by UBC faculty, staff and students. The project is expected to cost approximately $51.5 million, with $47.07 million financed by UBC. Being the first of its kind, it entailed an initial innovation cost and received funding from Natural Resources Canada ($2.34 million), the Province of B.C. ($1.65 million), and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council ($467,000).

Construction crane hoists final wood panel up 18 storeys for installation on the World’s Tallest Timber Building. Located on the campus of UBC, the new student residence called Brock Commons will house 404 students when it opens in mid-2017.

Construction crane hoists final wood panel up 18 storeys for installation on the World’s Tallest Timber Building. Located on the campus of UBC, the new student residence called Brock Commons will house 404 students when it opens in mid-2017.

Acton Ostry Architects designed the building in collaboration with structural engineer Fast + Epp, tall wood advisor Architekten Hermann Kaufmann of Austria, and Structurlam in Penticton, B.C., which provided the prefabricated wood components. UBC Properties Trust is managing the project.

The building is targeting LEED Gold certification, a rating system that promotes environmental responsibility for building owners and operators. It will exceed required fire ratings and standard seismic safety requirements.



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