“Plyscraper,” “woodscraper,” call it what you will, but the timber age is upon us. Brock Commons Tallwood House, the recently completed student residence building at the University of British Columbia(UBC) in Vancouver, now occupies a prominent position within architecture: the tallest timber structured building in the world.
Designed by the Canadian practice Acton Ostry Architects Inc., the project was a collaborative effort of a number of leading companies and consulting firms including Fast + Epp, Austria-based Architekten Hermann Kaufmann, and GHL Consultants Ltd., along with the renowned manufacturer of mass timber products and packages, Structurlam.
“We found that working with wood, we could reduce timelines for construction. The assembly of the wood structure went up incredibly quickly, faster than we even expected”, explained John Metras, Managing Director of Infrastructure Development at UBC.
Stretching up to a height of 53 meters, the building houses 404 students and comprises a mix of one-bedroom and studio units, study and social spaces, and a student lounge on the topmost floor. With the design and construction team working in tandem from the very beginning, the process was streamlined by a thorough testing of wood-to-wood connections on a two-story mock-up prior to on-site construction. This not only allowed the team to test structural stability, but also helped perfect the timeline of the project.
Even more pertinent to the pre-fabrication process was a detailed 3-D model, which helped various departments to collaboratively discuss and apply ideas prior to finalizing them for actual fabrication or construction. Owing to meticulous planning and the efficient integration of construction and design processes, Brock Commons was completed within a mere 70 days after the prefabricated components were ready for assembly – considerably shorter than the amount of time it would have taken to complete a concrete building of the same size.
Surprisingly though, despite wood being the main material used throughout the structure, the interior does little to reveal it. The structure is concealed behind drywall and concrete topping, mainly to comply with the accepted fire-safety codes and consequently speed up approval from building authorities. While Brock Commons could attract some criticism due to this particular aspect, the pros of the mass timber model still seem to outweigh the few cons. Not only is it economically viable, but when coupled with sustainable forest management, represents an altogether environmentally friendly method of building. It is light-weight and hence less prone to damage during earthquakes, but most importantly, due to the prefabricated elements involved, it is a speedy, hassle-free construction process contributing next to nothing to on-site traffic, pollution and noise.
Recent technological developments have certainly allowed for more efficient building processes and materials. More and more architects now rally for timber instead of concrete and steel, persuaded by its proven success and in reaction to the ever-mounting issue of climate change at hand. Several mass timber projects are already underway across the world including Shigeru Ban Architects’ plans for Terrace House in Vancouver. Once complete, the structure will surpass Brock Commons to become “the tallest hybrid timber structure building in the world”.
For more details of materials and the construction process of Brock Commons Tallwood House, check out our coverage of the project from last year:
Awarded every two years by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning in partnership with the Marcus Corporation Foundation, the $100,000 prize was established to recognize architects from around the globe currently “on a trajectory to greatness.” In addition to the cash prize, the award will support an upcoming design studio at the school led by Gang.
Gang was selected from a pool of nominees from 16 countries across 4 continents, all of whom were required to demonstrate a minimum of ten years of “proven, exceptional practice.”
“[Gang] is adept at outstanding design for all scales–from the neighborhood and urban scale to the detail of buildings and interior elements,” commented jury member John Czarnecki, Editor-in-Chief of Contract Magazine. “Her practice combines design thinking about the impact of architecture and urban design on cities as well as the creation of beautiful buildings rooted in context that will stand the test of time”.
“Education continues to evolve, and the projects from this year’s Education Facility Design Awardsprogram—presented by the AIA and the Committee on Architecture for Education—represent the state-of-the-art learning environments being developed in today’s learning spaces,” explain the AIA. “These projects showcase innovation across the entire learning continuum, displaying how today’s architects are creating cutting-edge spaces that enhance modern pedagogy.”
See the 12 winning projects, after the break.
Award of Excellence
Bridge for Laboratory Sciences, Vassar College, Integrated Science Commons; Poughkeepsie, New York / Ennead Architects
The new Vassar College Bridge for Laboratory Sciences (VBLS) redefines the sciences at Vassar. Spanning over a creek and connecting two sides of campus, the VBLS houses state-of-the-art undergraduate teaching and research laboratories, offices and shared public spaces and physically connects the sciences with the surrounding wetlands. Consolidating the sciences on Vassar’s campus, in addition to the new VBLS, the Integrated Science Commons includes the renovation of three buildings and ten acres of landscape to create a cohesive science precinct on Vassar’s campus.
This project achieves dual objectives by not only being a high-performance LEED-Platinum building, but also serves as a learning tool for students. The Kohler Environmental Center accommodates cohorts of up to 20 students for a total-immersion environmental living/learning experience. Feedback from the building’s monitoring systems enables students to teach themselves important lessons about how to live sustainably and responsibly.
The performing arts venues are positioned to welcome and engage the community, while the visual arts spaces allow students to use a preserved northerly grove of trees for artistic inspiration. A single pivot point between artistic disciplines serves as both a gathering space allowing students to continue learning outside the classroom and an area for patrons to gather prior to performances. The design integrates the historic heart of the campus with the existing and future circulation routes while preserving the integrity of the surrounding educational community.
Northwood Elementary School; Mercer Island, Washington / Mahlum
Northwood Elementary is located on Mercer Island, positioned directly between the cities of Seattle and Bellevue, and is the first school that the community had built since the 1950s. The project occupies the corner of a large, multi-use campus, adjacent to one of the last remaining stands of Madrona trees on the island, and nestles into a steeply sloped site at the head of a major geological outlet to Lake Washington. The design is an eco-system of ﬂexible and ﬂuidly connected spaces that promote active learning and support the Next Generation Science Standards.
University of Oregon Allan Price Commons Research Library Remodel-Expansion; Eugene, Oregon /Opsis Architecture
The Price Science Commons and Research Library creates an inviting identity for the Lokey Science Complex as a glass enclosed pavilion containing a social commons café and event space overlooking and connecting to the subterranean research library and landscaped courtyard. A hub of student activity, it is a technologically robust, dynamic learning environment for learning and discovery that reflects a 21st Century paradigm. The student-centered design promotes experimentation, collaboration, and investigation. Spatial flexibility, with classrooms that reconfigure into study groups and informal learning arrangements, promotes collaboration across diverse user groups. Science-specific study rooms support collaboration, tutoring, and hands-on learning.
Bates Technical College -Advanced Technology Center; Tacoma, Washington / McGranahan Architects
The Advanced Technology Center integrates student, faculty, project and instructional areas to provide pedagogical overlap to nurture student growth in STEM and broadcast technologies; attracting a diverse student body and supporting outcomes for a variety of educational capabilities and community benefits. The project inspired an exploration into shared craft and design methodologies that exist between building technologies and information architecture. The campus fosters student success by involving community and industry partners to support the college Foundation, which helps address financial needs of at-risk students. Project-oriented work, educational effectiveness, inquiry and collaboration among faculty and students is heightened through connectivity.
Born out of a need to accommodate a growing enrollment and expanding curriculum, Chengdu International School (CDIS) transformed a newly constructed structure from its original intended use as an elementary school for Chinese students, to an international school, grades pre-k thru 12, providing a western based educational model for foreign nationals living in China. The conversion of the 17,000-square foot, five-story building was extensive and highlighted the spatial, organizational and cultural differences between a Chinese teaching model. Drawing upon the rich use of color and frames in traditional Chinese architecture, a language of wrapping planes enfold non-programmed and shared community space.
Building and site are woven into each other at Cherry Crest Elementary, making students feel not so much “in the building” as “on the site.” This integrated experiential environment stimulates both the curriculum and student engagement by offering a variety of learning spaces which encourage overlap of formal and informal interaction. Educational environment and physical environment intertwine and are inseparable. The building is a gentle part of the site and the whole site is a teaching tool.
Founded on the conviction that design can help address some of society’s most pressing challenges, the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley, is devoted to introducing design innovation at the center of engineering education and university life. The project was conceived by the College of Engineering as an interdisciplinary hub for students and teachers from across the university who “love working at the intersection of design and technology”. It is designed as both a team-based, project-centric educational space and a compelling symbol to the region of the University’s commitment to enlightened, sustainable innovation.
Committed to the school motto, “A sound mind in a sound body,” The Winsor School’s new mixed-use facility serves as the home for the performing arts, athletics, and wellness education at the center of the school’s historic campus. The project features a new 515-seat theater, which serves as the school’s main assembly space, as well as major athletic and recreation facilities, including a two-court gymnasium, five squash courts, and physical education spaces. Other program elements include rehearsal and teaching areas for drama, dance, music, and health and wellness.
The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign consistently ranks amongst the top five engineering programs in the country. Known for groundbreaking research and technological innovations, the department needed a new home that reflected the program prestige by becoming the most sustainable laboratory classroom in the world. The 230,000-square foot building was designed with maximum energy efficiency in mind, eventually reaching a Net Zero Energy rating. This is an incredible feat, considering that to date the Department of Energy has classified only 10 U.S. facilities as net-zero energy buildings, each less than 15,000-square foot.
University of Pennsylvania – Stephen A. Levin Building; Philadelphia / SmithGroupJJR
The genesis for the new Neural and Behavioral Sciences (NBS) building is the acknowledgment that the study of complex behaviors will be a fundamental focus of life sciences in the 21st century. The NBS building strongly identifies itself as an iconic gateway into campus and celebrates a new life sciences precinct by defining a new academic quadrangle.
The jury for the 2017 Educational Facility Design Awards included Brian G. Minnich, AIA (Chair), GWWO Inc./Architects; Alissa Harrington, John Hopkins University School of Education; Jenine Kotob, Assoc,AIA, Quinn Evans Architects; Philip Poinelli, FAIA, SMMA / Architects; and Brandi Rickels, Lake|Flato Architects.
For more information on the winning projects, visit the AIA website, here.