Mass Wood for the Masses at UBC

As part of the 2017 WoodSolutions tour to North America it was a special treat to finally see Brock Commons Tallwood Tower in the flesh. Brock Commons Tallwood House is a new 18-storey mass timber hybrid residence that has been built at the University of British Columbia (UBC). At 53m in height, it is currently the tallest mass timber building in the world. The structure, consisting of 5-ply CLT panels supported on glue laminated timber (glulam) columns on a 2.85 x 4.0 metre grid, was erected in an astonishing nine and a half weeks! It will be occupied by the first intake of students by the end of July.

As part of UBC’s mandate to increase student housing on campus, Brock Commons will have capacity for 404 upper year and postgraduate students. Each unit will contain a kitchen and bathroom, with floorplans ranging from single bed studios to 4-bed accommodations. Study and social spaces are located on the ground floor with a student lounge on the 18th floor, where the wood structure has been left exposed for demonstration and educational purposes.

UBC’s building requirements reflect the university’s commitment to sustainability. Wood was chosen in part to reflect this commitment, and the building was also designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. (LEED is similar to Green Star in Australia.)

The project will be a living laboratory in which UBC faculty and postgraduate students, as well as architecture, engineering and forestry practitioners, can collaborate with UBC operational staff and industry partners on the design, development, and construction of tall wood buildings.

It was a joy to be hosted by Russell Acton, Principal at Acton Ostry Architects, the lead architect on the project. He reflected the need to ‘Keep It Simple’, and said that, “A key achievement for the Brock Commons project is the design of an innovative mass timber structural system that is genuinely economically viable, repeatable and adaptable to other building typologies and uses. This project will positively impact the wood, development and building industries in British Columbia.”

It’s an extraordinary building that will undoubtedly be a major step forward in providing a solution to provide mass wood for the masses. I am immensely privileged to have been able to see it.

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