Earth Sciences Building at UBC opens

Perkins+Will and Equilibrium Consulting join the University of British Columbia in celebrating the official opening of the Earth Sciences Building (ESB). Using wood as its primary structure, this innovative five-storey building is North America’s largest panelized wood structure.

“The new ESB is an outstanding demonstration of the fusion of leading-edge international technologies and British Columbia based design concepts. The building utilizes timber elements in a wide array of innovative applications, in addition to its amazing “floating” glulam staircase. ESB, designed by Perkins+Will with Equilibrium Consulting, serves as a leading example that entrenches the wood and building industries of British Columbia as global leaders in wood design and engineering, and innovative uses of wood applications,” says Werner Hofstätter, speaking on behalf of Wood WORKS! BC and the Canada Wood Council.

Shared between the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, the Department of Statistics, the Pacific Institute for the Mathematical Sciences, the Office of the Dean of Science, and the Pacific Museum of the Earth, the ESB provides ample opportunity for interdisciplinary exchange between departments. Designed to foster shared learning and collaboration, the new building houses state-of-the-art teaching and research spaces that put “science on display” while enhancing the campus’s public realm. 

“The new Earth Sciences Building puts our research and public outreach initiatives on prominent display along UBC’s Main Mall,” says Simon Peacock, Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of British Columbia. “It’s wonderful to be able to offer this marvelous facility to the UBC Science community, and to expand the Faculty’s public face on campus.”

Organized into two wings, the building surrounds an open-concept atrium featuring a dramatic free-floating cantilevered solid timber staircase, a first of its kind in the world. The clean and elegant lines of the impressive timber stair appear to defy gravity while visually expressing the aesthetic and structural capabilities of modern engineered timber. The academic wing also uses the natural warmth of wood to create an inviting environment for faculty and students while reducing the building’s environmental impact through carbon sequestration. 

“The use of wood is in line with the environmental goals of the project, as it boasts a low embodied energy profile and sequesters carbon dioxide, thereby mitigating the impact of climate change,” says Jana Foit, ESB’s Project Architect and Higher Education Practice Leader of Perkins+Will’s Vancouver office. “The combination of solid, cross-laminated wood and wood-concrete composite panels makes the ESB an innovative project in Canada and abroad – raising the bar for the use of wood for other large-scale, high-performance projects.”

Eric Karsh, co-founder and Principal of Equilibrium Consulting, the structural consulting firm on the project adds, “There has been a lot of discussion recently about the benefits of wood construction, particularly as it relates to mid-rise and tall structures. The ESB serves as a built example that will help transform our industry’s understanding of what is possible with wood. This is incredibly rewarding for all of us on the team.”

As part of the University’s ongoing strategic relationship with Perkins+Will, ESB builds upon the success of the ground-breaking Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, which opened last fall under a mission to serve as a catalyst of change. As leaders committed to pushing the boundaries in sustainable design, UBC and Perkins+Will share a common vision that considers the entire life-cycle impacts and opportunities of a building. This partnership has been further enhanced by the Perkins Will’s in-house research team, whose activities extend to other areas of the University’s culture and operations through combined efforts on innovative sustainable research, such as life-cycle assessments, LEED implementation, and classroom design guidelines, in addition to Perkins+Will’s lecture series on green design and sustainable building science.

“Great facilities help create great graduates who in turn build great companies and institutions,” says UBC geology alumnus Ross Beaty, Chairman of Pan American Silver Corp. and Alterra Power Corp, and Chair of the UBC Earth Sciences Building Campaign. “UBC’s world-renowned reputation for excellence in earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences is enhanced with this fine new building, which I am most proud of helping establish for future generations.”