It is a building that has challenged conventional construction and opened doors to what the future of building mass timber structures can be.
UBC Brock Commons is a landmark building on the university’s Vancouver campus. The 18-storey mass timber structure will be a student residence building, housing more than 400 students when it is completed in September 2017. The unique structure went up at record speed, with construction and installation teams completing two floors every week. The remarkable achievement is credited to careful planning and the ability to have the key building components- cross-laminated timber panels and glulam columns- prepared off site by Penticton-based Structurlam, the provider of the mass timber package. Building materials were prepared off-site so they were ready for installation upon arrival at UBC.
Preparation for Brock Commons began long before a shovel ever hit the dirt. Structurlam took part in a manufacturing design assist to optimize the CrossLam production process. A base 3D was then developed by CadMakers which was sent to Structurlam for final fabrication refinement. This information was then downloaded directly to CNC machines for fabrication. This process ensured measurements were precise, with a degree of accuracy to one millimeter. Careful preparation meant reduced manufacturing and assembly costs, resulting in a project that stuck to its projected timeline and virtually eliminated error.
With the majority of building preparation for Brock Commons occurring off-site, construction took place at a highly efficient rate. Construction began with one story of concrete and two concrete cores.
On June 6, 2016, the first cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels were installed in Brock Commons. Four separate trades were required to work as one unit in order for installation to occur at a rate of one floor every three days.
Structurlam provided 169 mm, 5 layer CLT panels measuring 2.9 x 11.8 m for floors, along with glulam columns for the building’s interior. Steel connectors allowed the building to be put together like lego. Thanks to prefab construction, the steel connectors allowed for a direct load transfer between columns and also provided a bearing surface for CLT panels.
Seagate Structures handled the install, placing CLT panels for the entire floor plate in five and a half hours. Centura handled the installation of the envelope panels. The team was consistently able to complete one floor in just eight hours. On top of that, building regulations required Brock Commons to have a protective moisture barrier coating and gypsum ceiling covering with a concrete floor topping in order to meet fire regulations, meaning those teams had to keep up with the fast pace. Urban One Builders were the fourth and final piece of the puzzle, working in collaboration with each unit to achieve success on the ambitious and innovative project. Each team was required to work in tandem with one another, meaning no one team could jump ahead of another or the project wouldn’t work. This was an effort of true collaboration.
Just eight weeks later, the final CLT panel was placed on the 18th floor.
The speed and precision that Brock Commons was able to achieve while building was a significant milestone in construction. Having materials prefabricated off-site at Structurlam’s warehouse meant there was significantly less labour required to work on-site. This led to a quieter construction zone, thus minimizing the noise for neighbours. Careful planning and the use of 3D innovation meant incomparable precision.
Constructing a wooden structure comes with significant, positive impacts to the environment. Wood is a sustainable building material that stores, rather than emits, carbon dioxide, and remains stored over time. Wood also lowers greenhouse gas emissions because it has lower energy consumption during fabrication processes.
At 53-metres, Brock Commons will be the world’s tallest mass timber building.