This building represents an important milestone in the evolution of wood buildings in North America and, to some extent, the world. The project introduces new methods of working with mass timber panels and specifically cross-laminated timber.
When completed in 2014, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC) was one of the tallest modern timber buildings in North America, with eight levels (officially, six storeys with an added mezzanine plus penthouse).
Built in part to house a new Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design program at the University of Northern British Columbia, the building features an open atrium and demonstration space, a lecture theatre, a workshop and laboratory, and spaces for faculty offices and classrooms.
As a demonstration project, WIDC not only showcases a wide range of locally sourced products and species, but serves as a repeatable and expandable template for constructing future tall wood buildings of different sizes and functions. The shape of the building—a clean, modern box—is intentionally restrained. Its simplicity lends itself to the practical and essential goal of repeatability, and gives centre stage to the beauty of the various woods and all their details.
WIDC’s structural concept is that of “dry construction”—using custom, prefabricated structural wood components—which virtually eliminates the use of concrete above the foundation, with the exception of the floor in the mechanical penthouse. This concept also allows for the wood to be elegantly and purposefully exposed as the finish throughout the building. The primary structure consists of an innovative combination of post-and-beam construction and built-up cross-laminated timber (CLT) floor panels. Glue-laminated timber (glulam) beams frame into glulam columns, both of which were chosen for their exceptional structural performance.
Several wood species were used in the construction—including Douglas-fir, western red cedar, hemlock, pine, and spruce—and were all sustainably harvested from B.C. forests. While traditional wood products like dimension lumber and plywood panels were employed in various ways, the structural design and building envelope focused on engineered wood products—glulam, CLT, parallel strand lumber, and laminated veneer lumber, all of which were produced in British Columbia.
Much of the building’s exterior features a unique and striking type of cladding— a combination of naturally weathered and charred western red cedar siding. Its lustrous black finish is durable and low maintenance, as the charring process makes it more resistant to flame and pests.
The building envelope design, with its varied glazing pattern, is a metaphor for the natural outer layer of a northern tree, which has thick bark and moss on the north side to protect from the elements, but is thinner on the opposite side for greater exposure to the sun.