Located on the edge of the Pacific Spirit Regional Park, steps away from several beaches and featuring views of the North Shore Mountains, The University of British Columbia's (UBC) lush Vancouver Campus is home to thousands of students all year long. But the increasing demand for student housing is reaching an all-time high, with a record-breaking waitlist of approximately 6,300 students in May 2015. To address the urgent need for more on-campus residential units, UBC has recently approved the construction of an 18-storey, 53-metre student residence, which happens to be mostly made out of wood.

UBC's tall wood-frame student residence, image courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects

In an earlier story, we talked about a similar 13-storey timber structure to be built in Quebec City, despite current regulations in the Belle Province which prohibit wood buildings from rising higher than six storeys. While the Province of British Columbia has the same restrictions, it seems like tall wood buildings are increasingly being accepted by governments in Canada and around the world. UBC's $51.5 million CAD Brock Commons Phase 1 project is yet another sign of the changing mentality and confidence now placed in this emerging construction technique. 

Ground level view of UBC's Brock Commons Phase 1, image courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects

Following a request for a Site Specific Regulation from the British Columbia Building Safety & Standards Branch, UBC is now able to build its mass timber superstructure, whose columns will be made out of glued laminated timber (glulam), consisting of several layers of timber bonded together with a durable adhesive. Cross laminated timber (CLT), which is composed of three to seven layers of wood glued together with the grain at alternating right angles, will be used for the floor plates, ceilings and walls. The use of wood will reduce the weight of the building dramatically, since glulam is one sixth the weight of concrete. It will also have a better energy performance and absorb most of the CO2 emissions it produces rather than releasing them inyo the atmosphere, which is currently not the case for steel and concrete buildings. In fact, the residence aims for at least a LEED Gold certification.

Ground level view of UBC's Brock Commons Phase 1, image courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects

In total, 17 floors will be made out of wood while the underground levels, the ground floor and the two cores will be concrete. Inside, only a few spaces will feature exposed wood, as most of it will be covered with drywall for insulation and fire safety purposes. Vancouver-based Acton Ostry Architects have been working on this project in collaboration with Austrian Architekten Hermann Kaufmann ZT GmbH, who specialize in tall wood structures. The research centre FPInnovations conducted tests on the building's structural wood components, ensuring that its fire and seismic resistance met the National Building Code of Canada's requirements. The tower will serve as an academic site for students and researchers who will study and monitor its operations during and after construction.

The residence will also feature study and gathering areas, image courtesy of Acton Ostry Architects

The student residence will house 404 students in 272 studios and 33 four-bedroom units. On the ground floor, a lounge and study space will give commuting students a place to stay during the long gaps they can experience in between classes. It will be located on Walter Gage Road, immediately at the back of the North Parkade, as seen in the image below. The narrow strip of land results in a slender shape for the building, filling one of the rare spaces left in the heart of the campus.

Aerial view of the site of the future residence, in the centre, image retrieved from Apple Maps

Funding comes from a wide array of contributors, such as UBC's Student Housing and Hospitality Services, the Binational Softwood Lumber Council, Forestry Innovation Investment, Natural Resources Canada, British Columbia's Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations as well as some other external sources. Construction of what will briefly be the world's tallest timber building is expected to start in the fall of 2015, for delivery in September 2017. Brock Commons Phase 1 will indeed hold this title for a very limited time, as similar but taller buildings such as a 34-storey wooden apartment block in Stockholm are in the pipeline in other regions of the world.

Additional information and renderings can be found in our dataBase page for the project, linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment at the bottom of this page.