Author: David Rowlinson
This article first appeared in the Property Council newsletter.
Canada’s Brock Commons will soon be the tallest modern timber building in the world. The project’s architect Russell Acton (pictured to the right of Jay Weatherill, Premier of South Australia) says the building demonstrates a way for mass wood to be brought to the masses.
When the doors to Brock Commons Tall Wood House open in May, the University of British Colombia will boast the world’s tallest timber student digs. The structure of the 53-metre high building was completed in 66 calendar days – two floors a week – which is around four months faster than conventional construction methods.
The building features 17-storeys of cross laminated timber (CLT) floors, supported on glue-laminated timber columns atop a concrete base, with two 18-storey concrete containing exit stairs and elevators.
Acton, a principal with Acton Ostry Architects, has been working with wood for more than 25 years. He says he was inspired by the opportunity to “demonstrate that tall wood buildings need not only be iconic, expensive feature buildings”.
Acton says his aim was to design “an extraordinarily ordinary building” that was economical to build and “which just happens to have a mass wood structure”.
While engineered timber such as CLT has been around since the 1970s, it is attracting international attention as carbon reduction strategy, Acton says.
The production of CLT “creates less greenhouse gas emission than the manufacture of concrete and steel. And the wood from which CLT is manufactured sequesters and stores carbon, rather than releasing it into the atmosphere”.
Mass wood structures are also “quick, quiet and clean to construct” – a benefit for people living in urban areas.
“Mass wood structures require a great deal of coordination during the design stage, which leads to a smooth and speedy construction process,” Acton adds. “The 2mm accuracy and tight tolerances required for mass wood structures provide the building systems and finishing trades with the confidence to pre-cut and pre-assemble components of their work away from the site, which resulted in better quality work that was installed on site faster than is typical.”
The biggest challenge for the project team on Brock Commons was gaining the permission from the relevant authorities. “Our strategy to secure approval was to follow a project design principle to ‘keep it simple’.
“By designing an easily-demonstrable, structurally-sound and fire-safe building system, we strove to make it easy for the authority to provide the construction approval.”
Acton says the future of timber structures lies in them being “commonplace and ubiquitous background buildings”.
Brock Commons contributes to the “advancement of mass wood buildings as being truly economical and environmentally friendly to build”.