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UBC plans 18-storey wood building

Residence will house up to 404 students
UBC plans to build what might be the world’s tallest wood building. Photo UBC
UBC plans to build what might be the world’s tallest wood building. Photo UBC

The University of British Columbia plans to build what might be the world’s tallest wood building in B.C. — an 18-storey residence for students.

It would be the tallest building made of wood in B.C. and very likely the tallest in the world, although there are plans for an even taller one in Austria.

The 53-metre tall building has been approved for construction, with completion slated for September 2017.

It will domicile up to 404 students in 272 studio apartments and 33 four-bedroom apartments. It is expected to be a showcase for B.C. engineered wood products.

“By taking advantage of new building technologies, we’re also expanding our markets for B.C. wood products — and supporting jobs in the forest sector,” said B.C. Forestry Minister Steve Thomson.

At a capital cost of $51.5 million, the building will cost about $4.5 million more than if it were built from traditional concrete and steel materials.

“There are some additional costs associated with constructing in wood, at this height, for the first time that we’ve allowed,” said John Metras, UBC’s managing director of infrastructure development.

He said those extras costs are being covered by funding from Natural Resources Canada, Forestry Innovation Investment, the Binational Softwood Lumber Council and B.C. Ministry of Forests.

The biggest concern with building made of wood is the fire hazard. The building will have a sprinkler system and backup water reservoir. All the engineered wood used in the building will be encased in triple layers of drywall.

“It basically prevents fire spread in the building,” Metras said.

The building will have a concrete base, as well as a concrete and steel core for the elevator and stairwell.

Since wood sequesters carbon, using lumber reduces the building’s carbon footprint. It’s that lower footprint that UBC hopes will help the building attain a LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) gold rating.

Vancouver’s Acton Ostry Architects was commissioned to design the building in collaboration with with Austria’s Architekten Hermann Kaufmann. Fast + Epp has been contracted as the structural engineer on the project.

When finished, the building may be the tallest wood residential building in the world, although at 24 storeys, a wood tower planned in Austria would soon beat B.C.’s record for height.

nbennett@biv.com