A new student residence building at the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey campus will become a living experiment as part of an effort to demonstrate the economic and structural feasibility of wood-based construction.
Last fall, construction began on the university’s so-called Tall Wood Building, a 53-metre-tall (174-foot), 18-storey high-rise building made primarily out of wood. When complete in summer 2017, just in time for the new school year, the building will be the tallest mass wood building in the world.
The project is designed by Vancouver-based Acton Ostry Architects, with Austria’s Architekten Hermann Kaufmann as tall wood advisors, is expected to cost $51.5 million.
The 162,700-square-foot building is the first phase of the Brock Commons Student Residence complex, situated on a vacant site immediately north of the North Parkade on Walter Gage Road.
Amenity and study spaces will be found on the main floor while 408 beds for upper year and graduate students will occupy the upper floors. The residence units will be a mix of single-bed studios and four-bed quad units, with both space options built with kitchen components and bathrooms.
A timber structure of glulam columns, linked together by steel connectors, will provide the frame needed to support the floor plate slabs made out of 5-ply cross laminated wooden panels. The facade of the structure will also be made of prefabricated high-pressure laminate panels.
But the building will not be entirely wood: The building’s hybrid structural system consists of a one-storey concrete podium on the main floor and two vertical concrete cores that reach the rooftop level. According to the architects, the timber structure will carry the vertical load and the concrete cores, containing the exit stairs and elevators, will provide the structure with lateral stability.
“Although construction of the first floor and cores could tecnically be constructed utilizing mass timber, concrete was used in the interest of familiarity regarding life safety, fire fighting, and approvals processes,” reads the architect’s building description.
One of the main concerns over a tall wood structure remains with fire safety, even though timber is a safer material than steel given that charred wooden surfaces protect the structural wood underneath. In contrast, steel structures are weakest at the points of where it supports a post.
To alleviate safety concerns, the building will have an automatic sprinkler system with a back-up water supply. As well, highly compartmentalized residence units will limit the potential spread of fire in the building; the units are designed with a two-hour fire separation.
As B.C. building codes do not permit wooden buildings taller than six storeys, the project required a special design and approval process.
It is anticipated that the prefabricated wood structure and facade will be erected at a rate of one floor per week. Proponents of the project are aiming to achieve a LEED Gold certification.
Brock Commons is part of UBC’s strategy to alleviate its on-campus student housing demand. Over 2,800 beds were added to the campus over the last six years, and another 3,000 beds will be built by the end of the decade.
Last May, UBC recorded a student housing wait-list of approximately 6,300 students – the largest wait list ever recorded for student housing by the university.