Wooden Skyscraper Coming to Vancouver – 18 storeys, all wood

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

One of the tallest wooden towers in the world is coming to Vancouver.

Plans have just been approved for an 18-storey student residential tower made almost entirely of wood to rise on the University of British Columbia campus.

At 53 metres (174 feet), the Tall Wood Student Residence would dwarf North America’s current tallest wooden building, a six-storey structure in Prince George, as well as the world’s tallest wooden building, a 10-storey tower in Melbourne, Australia. Upon completion in 2017, it will likely rank among the world’s tallest residential wood structures (though not quite as tall as a 35-storey mixed-use tower currently underway in Paris).

The $51.5-million project will ultimately house 404 upper-level university students in 272 studio units and 33 four-bedroom units. It will also have a ground-floor lounge and a special “Collegium” space for first-year and commuting students to gather.

But is it safe to build wooden skyscrapers? 

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

Wood is currently enjoying a renaissance as a building material around the world, offering a sustainable alternative to concrete and steel. In fact, as many as 17 “tall wood” projects are currently in the works, according to an article in the Vancouver Sun.

The UBC tower meets or exceeds both fire and seismic safety codes, according to the managing director of infrastructure development at UBC. The first floor will be composed of concrete, while the 17 floors above will be built of wood. Inside, two concrete cores rising through the building will house elevator shafts and stairwells.

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

Importantly, the wood used in construction is different from the type of wood used in normal homes. Called “mass timber,” it has a high ignition point. If it does burn, generally only the outside will char, leaving the inside structurally sound. Load-bearing columns and beams, meanwhile, are composed of layers of wood bonded together under high pressure, yielding a material much stronger than normal lumber.

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

Image sourced from UBC Public Affairs, from Acton Ostry Architects

The Tall Wood Student Residence is slated for opening in fall 2017. It’s one of a total of five separate housing projects underway on the UBC campus to ease a serious housing crunch. UBC currently houses nearly 10,000 students, but another 6,300 students are stuck on waiting lists for residential accommodation.  The new projects will add a total of 3,000 beds by 2020.

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3 Responses to Wooden Skyscraper Coming to Vancouver – 18 storeys, all wood

  1. Hardy

    It’s not good idea to have wooden building this tall one catches fire all goes down

  2. So the residents are really “test pilots” of a building construction method and material design that has never been tried before….they should all sign waivers. I can envision what might happen in case of fire where (in the aftermath) they realized the sprinkler system didn’t work as designed, or in an earthquake where the structural strength wasn’t what they expected. But I’m sure their chances will be increased by omission of the 4th, 13th and 14th floors….

  3. Dallas Valerian

    The fire-proofed steel girders in the WTC Twin Towers melted.