UBC Forest Sciences Centre

Location

Vancouver, BC

Size

21,500 square metres

Completion

1998

Architect

DGBK Architects

Structural Engineer

CWMM Consulting Engineers

The four-storey glazed atrium is the star of the Forest Sciences Centre, a popular place for students to congregate beneath a tree-like canopy of thirteen-metre parallel strand lumber columns.
  • The laboratory is home to North America’s first robotic CNC timber processor.
  • The plan is divided into three blocks with an awe-inspiring atrium at its heart.
  • The building pushed the limits of wood construction at a time when building codes were still catching up to advances in wood technology and construction.

The University of British Columbia’s Vancouver-based Forest Sciences Centre is, as its name suggests, an academic and research hub for the science and study of forestry, forest ecology, wood products technology, and innovative wood construction. The facility pushed the limits of wood construction at a time when building codes were still catching up to advances in wood technology and construction. The design team found a solution that was at once practical and innovative in their quest to use as much wood as possible, dividing the program into different uses to meet existing building codes.

Innovation had pushed the limits of the building codes

The building was designed as three different blocks in order to comply with BC Building Code regulations at the time. These include the four-storey laboratory block, the four-storey office block, and the two-storey wood-processing centre, all of which are connected by the large glass-domed atrium at the centre. The blocks are differentiated by structure and design, and are separated by seismic joints and fire barriers, including sprinklers and automated smoke vents, and tempered glass in the windows. The laboratory, dubbed the Centre for Advanced Wood Processing, is home to North America’s first robotic CNC timber processor. The laboratory block had to be reinforced in concrete because of concerns about vibrations from equipment, and compliance with the Building Code. The office block is constructed using parallel strand lumber (PSL) beams and columns, with a floor of engineered wood joists and plywood sheathing, topped with concrete. The wood-processing centre has Douglas-fir glue-laminated (glulam) beams and columns which support the exposed wood trusses and roof I-beams. Walls are framed with spruce-pine-fir dimension lumber and oriented strand board (OSB) for shear resistance.

Like walking through a forest

The atrium is the part of the facility with the “wow” factor. It was also the best place to exhibit exposed wood construction because of fire regulations within the construction code. The large 13-metre-tall parallel strand lumber (PSL) “trees” support the glazed roof and create a feeling of walking beneath a forest canopy. The trees are composed of columns clustered into groups of four that support large truss “branches.” The skylight is framed in 3.4-metre-long wood purlins, or horizontal beams, that span between PSL wood frames. Douglas-fir boards, maple wood veneer and solid wood paneling line the atrium walls. The open staircase and raised study areas are made up of tongue-and-groove Douglas-fir boards. The overall feeling of the atrium is of being outdoors, among nature.