wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary School (Formerly Sir Matthew Begbie)


Vancouver, B.C.


3,400 square metres





Structural Engineer

Fast + Epp

Construction Manager

Yellowridge Construction

Mass Timber Installer

Beam Craft

Wood Supplier

Mercer Mass Timber LLC

Project Materials

Cross-laminated timber (CLT)

Glue-laminated timber (Glulam)

Structural Systems

Low rise

Mass timber

An elementary school for the 21st century

wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary School is a nearly all mass timber structure, a flexible, interconnected plan, and a light-filled two-storey design forms an elementary school ready for today’s modern teaching methods. The 3,400 square-metred facility, has a capacity for 340 students in kindergarten and grades one through seven.

  • A prefabricated mass timber system delivered the much-needed facility on an expedited construction schedule.
  • Mass timber reduced congestion and noise in the quiet East Vancouver neighbourhood.

Mass timber left exposed, wrapping occupants in warmth of wood

The construction of wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm Elementary School (formerly Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary School) gives students a thoroughly contemporary facility designed for today’s modern teaching needs. Wək̓ʷan̓əs tə syaqʷəm means the sun rising over the horizon in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, the Musqueam language.

An intersecting form divides the two-storey school into four main quadrants. The pod-like configuration assigns four classrooms to each quadrant. A departure from conventional classroom design, the floor plan opens up circulation, eliminates narrow hallways, and provides more common multi-functional space.

A glazed, double-height atrium runs down the centre of the building, forming the heart of the school and linking the east-facing playing field and the west-facing grounds. The result is a bisecting design unified by common space that encourages co-mingling and collaboration among students and teachers.

The new school, which replaces an original structure on the site built in 1922, was part of the British Columbia government’s initiative to accelerate seismic safety in schools by means of upgrades and replacements of facilities.

Mass timber delivers an open, flexible design

Long-spanning mass timber forms the school’s quadrant configuration, while accommodating well-designed way-finding through the building with north/south and east/west corridors. Cross-laminated timber (CLT) serves as both gravity and shear walls, to resist the high seismic forces of the region. Non-structural partitions within the interior accommodate mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. Large door openings in the CLT walls connect each classroom with the common spaces of each pod.

The CLT-built structure delivers a cantilevered design for the multipurpose roof, a composite double-T design combining CLT with glue-laminated timber (glulam) beams for long-spanning panels. The system accommodates open spaces with a shallow structural depth. For the large gymnasium, long glulam beams are moment connected to create a striking vaulted roof.

Prefabricated timber means faster construction

The much-needed facility required an expedited construction schedule. To assemble the structure, the prefabricated CLT panels were quickly and safely lifted into place, minimizing site impact and reducing congestion and noise in the quiet East Vancouver neighbourhood.

A lesson in sustainability

The use of locally-sourced naturally renewable timber fits with the school district’s commitment to sustainability and low carbon construction—delivering a net CO2 benefit of 1,421 metric tonnes. Biophilic design brings the outdoors inside and connects students with nature.

The mass timber is left exposed throughout the facility wrapping occupants in the warmth of wood and complemented by an abundance of natural light. The double-height atrium features exposed CLT and provides access to an outdoor classroom. Second floor punched windows are recessed helping mitigate heat gain on hot days. The quadrant-design features a fern garden and natural courtyards throughout.