Innovative concept for all-wood Faculty building wins top award

Monday, December 20, 2021

Creative ideas for a proposed all-wood Waterloo Engineering building won a student team first prize in an international contest.

The Structural Timber and Applied Research Team (START) was recognized in the student submission category of the Build the (Im)possible challenge sponsored by Rothoblaas, a timber technology company located in Italy.

Tyler Hull, a civil engineering PhD student, Maxime Cléroux, a civil engineering MASc student, and Herry Chen, Stefan Rankovic and Javier Fierro, all architectural engineering students, spent three months developing plans for what they think could be the next engineering academic building. The

Winning START proposed all-wood building
team was advised by faculty members Andrea Atkins and Daniel Lacroix.

START's proposed all-wood Waterloo Engineering building.

Hull, who travelled to Italy last month to present START’s submission, said the team’s goal was to “challenge the perspective of what’s possible.”

 “There are a few universities in Canada that have started constructing academic buildings out of wood,” he said. “We want to show Waterloo decision makers we can also do that.”

Hollowcore mass timber panels
Plans for the seven-storey building include hollowcore mass timber panels, which Hull is developing at Waterloo for his doctoral research.

In their submission, team members said using wood as the primary construction material can contribute to a significant reduction in global emissions through its smaller carbon footprint and ability to absorb and store carbon over its lifetime.

In addition, wood has been shown to boost learning and happiness, a phenomenon termed biophilia, the team explained.

“When surrounded by natural materials, students specifically have shown increased work productivity, social connection, and classroom learning, as well as decreased stress and absences,” the team said.

START members named their proposed structure the Sullivan Innovation Centre in honour of the late Pearl Sullivan who was dean of Waterloo Engineering from 2012 to 2019.

They have a meeting scheduled with Mary Wells, the Faculty’s current dean, for early next year to discuss their winning building ideas.