Renders of the new student residence at University of British Columbia (Acton Ostry Architects)

World’s tallest timber tower going up in Vancouver

9 December 2015 | By Rod Sweet 2 Comments

Made possible by a special change in law, a building that is set to claim the title of world’s tallest timber tower is now under construction in Vancouver, Canada.

When complete in 2017, the 18-storey (53m) tower, called Brock Commons, will house hundreds of students at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

“This beautiful, new tall wood building will serve as a living laboratory for the UBC community”– Martha Piper, University of British Columbia’s interim president

Unless overtaken by other ambitious timber towers now at design or proposal stage, the CAN$51.5m residence is set to be the world’s tallest, beating the 13-storey ‘Origine’ apartment block now being built in Quebec City.

The world’s tallest completed timber structure is the 10-storey Forte apartment block in Melbourne, Australia, completed in November 2012 by Lend Lease.

Construction on Brock Commons, designed by Acton Ostry Architects, started on 9 November and the building is set to open in September 2017. It will house 404 students in 272 studios and 33 four-bedroom units.

Earlier this year the provincial government of British Columbia passed a new regulation that allowed UBC to go over timber-structure height limits if the building met rigorous health and safety standards. The architects, Acton Ostry, and UBC building officials helped draft the regulation.

“When we introduced BC’s Building Act this year, one of our goals was to encourage innovation by creating an approval process for groundbreaking projects like this one,” said Rich Coleman, the province’s minister for housing. “As a result, we have been able to approve UBC’s tall wood building, while ensuring it meets rigorous health and safety standards.”

Living lab

As well as housing students, Brock Commons will be a “living laboratory” allowing researchers to monitor its performance.
“This beautiful, new tall wood building will serve as a living laboratory for the UBC community,” said Martha Piper, the university’s interim president. “It will advance the university’s reputation as a hub of sustainable and innovative design, and provide our students with much-needed on-campus housing.”

The building will consist of a mass timber superstructure atop a concrete base. UBC aims for the building to achieve a minimum LEED Gold certification, a rating system that evaluates how environmentally friendly a structure is in its design and energy use.
Brock Commons may have trouble holding on its ‘world’s tallest’ title for long, however, because even taller timber structures have been proposed.

In Vienna, developers have proposed a 24-storey (84m) wooden tower called HoHo Vienna. Caroline Palfy of cetus Baudevelopment and investor Günter Kerbler hope to start building it in 2016.

Interest in tall timber towers continues to grow. In 2013, Denmark’s C.F. Møller Architects designed a 34-storey apartment building for downtown Stockholm, and the same year US-based Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill designed a theoretical structural system for a 42-storey timber tower.

Photograph: Renders of the new student residence at University of British Columbia (Acton Ostry Architects)