UBC’s Timber Design Studio: Cultivating Architectural Passion and Collaboration

By: Haiyan Zhang

Senior Technical Director, Canada Wood China

On the scenic grounds of UBC campus, a wave of enthusiasm swept through from July 26 to August 4. Having spent three years in the virtual world because of the pandemic, the Timber Design Studio came alive, buzzing with excitement. From China’s academic giants – Harbin Institute of Technology, Southeast University, and Nanjing Tech University – came 16 curious students and 5 dedicated professors, eager to dive in.

Their two weeks were a blend of classroom insights and outdoor adventures. Students and Chinese professors explored cutting-edge wooden structures across the UBC campus, greater Vancouver, and Whistler, including notable sites like Brock Commons, VanDusen Garden, Richmond Oval, Surrey Central City, and the Metrotown Pedestrian Bridge. They were captivated by wood’s aesthetic appeal and its diverse applications in tall residential buildings, expansive public structures, and bridges. The adaptability of wood left a strong impression, as it effortlessly translated architectural concepts into tangible constructions. The utilization of computer-aided design and CNC pre-fabrication techniques stood out for their ability to accelerate construction timelines and enhance cost-effectiveness in wooden construction. Additionally, the way wood synergized with other materials like steel and concrete showcased its versatility, allowing structures to maximize performance through the unique attributes of each material.

Inspired by these visits, the students set to work designing a timber bridge, aiming to excel at the 2023 University Design Competition in China. Guided by professors and teaching assistants, the students collaborated in teams, progressing from initial creative concepts to viable solutions, and ultimately arriving at designs that underwent evaluation during the conclusive presentation.

Guiding this journey was Professor Frank Lam, a pillar of UBC’s Department of Wood Science. Initiated in 2015, this program has been a bridge – connecting budding architects in China to the world of Canadian timber.

Although typically supported by Canada Wood, this year’s financial constraints prompted students and their universities to take the lead in funding. Their commitment underscores the program’s significance, highlighting the real and growing passion for timber education in China. The Timber Design Studio stands as a testament to the power of education, collaboration, and the timeless allure of wood.