The star of the University of British Columbia’s Forest Sciences Centre is the wood-exposed atrium, a popular place for forestry and wood technology students to congregate beneath a tree-like canopy of 13-metre parallel strand lumber (PSL) columns.
- The laboratory is home to North America’s first robotic CNC timber processor.
- The building plan was divided into three blocks to comply with the building code at the time while incorporating as much wood as possible.
- The awe-inspiring atrium, features innovative wood use, with large PSL “trees” supporting the skylight roof to recreate the feel of a forest canopy.
The Vancouver-based Forest Sciences Centre is an academic and research hub for the science and study of forestry, forest ecology, wood products technology, and innovative wood construction. The building includes classrooms, lecture theatres, and a café on the ground level, with offices and study areas on the upper floors, and various types of teaching and research laboratories. The facility pushed the limits of wood construction at a time when building codes were still catching up with 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 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, called 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 features exposed wood construction with 13-metre-tall PSL “trees” to support the glazed roof and create a feeling of being outdoors as if 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.