Forest for the Trees | PCL

Forest for the Trees

The award-winning Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC) in downtown Prince George, British Columbia, incorporates a structural system that uses a variety of sustainable, locally manufactured wood products. The six-story WIDC is one of the tallest contemporary wood building in North America. For the owner, the BC government Ministry of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training, it is a showcase of innovative uses of wood that will lead to community sustainability and resiliency.

Locally-sourced products help make the WIDC an
icon of sustainable design.

Cross-laminated timber panels and parallel strand
lumber are computer modeled in a factory setting,
which permits accuracy to a few millimeters.

UNBC’s need for high-performance
videoconferencing in their classrooms introduced
another layer of complexity for the WIDC team, as
wood historically does not perform as well
acoustically as concrete.

The University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), Canada’s Green University, is one of the tenants of the WIDC, which provides a fitting home for UNBC’s master of engineering program in integrated wood design. Graduates will lead the world in the construction of new wood structures that will be both sustainable and healthy, illustrating the benefits of wood construction for healthy ecosystems and communities. WIDC will also be home to the Emily Carr Centre for Design Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which will feature art and designbased educational programs and applied research activities, as well as on partnerships focused on design innovation and secondary manufacturing with wood and wood-based products.

Tight Tolerances

Building with wood comes with challenges beyond those that are typically known on a project before construction starts, such as the need to overcome differences in tolerances between wood, steel, concrete, aluminum, and glass. Engineered wood elements such as cross-laminated timber panels and parallel strand lumber are computer modeled in a factory setting, which permits accuracy to a few millimeters for the components prefabricated offsite. But such tight tolerances are unforgiving if conditions in the field are less accurate. PCL partners Nicola Logworks (a local industry expert in wood installation) and the fabricator, Structurlam, another leader in engineered wood, were involved early in the process. Their input not only drove the installation method and fabrication sequence but also highlighted critical areas where tolerances would be the most challenging, particularly at connections and at the tallest structural components, where a slight variation in location or levelness at the base of the building could telegraph up and become a large variation at the top.

Embed plates in the reinforced concrete slab are the starting point for the wood structure, and this is where misalignment could start. Well before the first wood elements showed up on-site, the team locked in the structure design and poured the slab, giving them time to survey and triple-check the slab and embeds before, during, and after the pour. This focus paid off: of almost 80 slab connection points, only one embed required a minor modification.

Acoustics Designed in Wood

UNBC’s need for high-performance videoconferencing in their classrooms introduced another layer of complexity for the WIDC team, as wood historically does not perform as well acoustically as concrete. 
To meet acoustic requirements and still maximize the exposed wood finishes, the team introduced a layer of sound dampening below the floor finishes and installed insulation and drywall noise barriers above the visible wood-grille ceiling. In addition, noise barriers installed within service troughs in the ceiling and floor—originally designed to house the mechanical and electrical lines—ensured the spaces would have superior sound. 
While this solution required reconfiguration of the mechanical and electrical service distribution, it provided ample soundproofing without the use of concrete or acoustic ceiling tile and kept to the fundamental goal of exposing wood in unique and visually appealing ways. The final acoustic testing results met or exceeded the university’s standards throughout the building.

Just as primarily wood buildings were common in the past, so they are likely to be again, as part of the outlook for green construction. The intent of the WIDC was not only to further wood construction, but to better it through innovative designs and engineering, and comprehensive testing, so that future wood construction will benefit.

 

 

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