A Modern Wood Design Education

The media is awash with wood buildings and wood industry updates. Our collective attention is focused on the innovation and creativity that is delivering larger and taller wood buildings around the world and there are powerful words being used to describe what is happening. Words like “renaissance” and “revolution” are common and signal the massive, transformative change the construction industry is facing as modern mass timber construction takes hold.

Mass timber construction has found popular support for several significant reasons. Chief among them is wood’s environmental performance. In the face of a growing carbon crisis and irrefutable evidence of climate change, we must do everything we can to reduce the carbon footprint of the built environment and make the move to sustainably sourced wood construction materials.

The challenge is that wood has been marginalized by prescriptive building codes for decades. Although regulatory bodies are now moving to ensure codes better reflect the huge advances being made in the wood industry, there is a shortage of wood-experienced professionals. According to Reed Kelterborn, National Education Manager at the Canadian Wood Council, “most post-secondary design and construction curriculum in Canada has focused on concrete and steel; but with increasingly larger and taller wood structures being built today, there is a growing need for knowledgeable wood design and construction professionals.”

Fortunately, there are many individuals and groups committed to training future practitioners and existing professionals. The CWC’s WoodSMART program, for one, supports the efforts of institutions and educators, to help develop wood design courses, or enhance existing programs with wood design content that will prepare future practitioners to develop modern timber buildings.

Individual institutions are also taking it upon themselves to develop new content for their students. This past fall, we were pleased to be part of a new course created by Professor Brigitte Shim and Professor Robert Wright for the Master of Architecture and Landscape Architecture Program at the University of Toronto. The design studio called “Places of Production: Forest / Factory” brought students right into the heart of what’s happening in mass timber, introduced them to numerous industry stakeholders, and gave them essential timber design experience. It was a privilege to be part of Brigitte and Robert’s design studio, and the students’ enthusiasm for wood design and the work they produced was inspiring.

Field trips included a trip to the Haliburton Forest to learn about sustainable forest management, building tours of 80 Atlantic (a mid-rise commercial NLT/glulam building under construction) and Golden Avenue (a completed NLT hybrid structure), a visit to Sidewalk Labs to examine their vision for the future and underscore the importance of innovation, as well as a tour of the Carpenters’ Union’s  Wood Construction Training Facility.

Element5 believes firmly in supporting the education of students and existing practitioners. As mass timber experts, we see it as our role to be ambassadors of mass timber, sharing information and expertise to expand everyone’s capacity for wood design. Whether it is a factory tour, cost consulting, design assistance, offering insight on how to efficiently design in mass timber, or speaking about prefabrication and DfMA, we want to help. We believe modular, mass timber construction is the future and we want as many people as possible to be able to participate in that vision.