A more unusual example is to be found in the Richmond Oval, an ice skating arena built in 2010 for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The Mayor of Richmond (a satellite city to Vancouver) called for the building to be an expression of local materials, a desire that engineers Paul Fast and Gerry Epp (Fast + Epp) took literally and to giant scale. In designing huge structural beams able to span the 90 metre width of the skating space without intermediate column support, the engineers decided to eschew conventional steel and concrete solutions and to fabricate giant glued laminated (glulam) timber beams instead. These are configured in pairs to form curving V-shaped composite beams that not only impressively span the vast breadth of the arena, but also contain all of the building’s mechanical and electrical services (lighting, heating and ventilation, sprinkler system) within the hollow of the V.
Remarkable though this integrated solution is, it is the smaller, 13 metre ‘wood waves’ that span perpendicular to the main beams that most expressively demonstrate the benefits of the wood in the particular circumstances of this building type. Comprising standard sawmill sections, the short lengths of softwood are formed into irregular curved V-shaped beams and spaced to allow air penetration to the sound absorbent material that lines the inner faces of the V. These intermediate beams provide the acoustic dampening so often omitted from these large, reverberant volumes, but also a perception of warmth that is not normally something one associates with ice skating venues.
The big win is that it makes use of some 6000 beetle affected trees, an endemic problem in pine trees in parts of British Columbia and which is too often resolved by simply burning the infected material. Here Fast+Epp have demonstrated that the wood’s structural capacity (and hence its economic value) remains unaffected by disease, and have used this to advantage in their ingenious solution to an engineering challenge. That this has also benefited the local forestry sector is a message for architects, engineers and foresters in the UK where our larch, oak and Scots pine trees are also variously affected by disease. Edinburgh Napier University’s Centre for Wood Science and Technology has now carried out considerable research and testing to show that it is still possible to make intelligent - indeed innovative - use of these species by, for example, fabricating large structures entirely from relatively short lengths of material.