Tutoring with wood: using wood in schools

Tutoring with wood: using wood in schools

How does school design influence the teaching and learning process? Understanding current trends and methodologies in instructional design is key to designing healthy spaces for students to develop their social and academic skills.

If we look at the evolution of school design over time, we can see that each period has its own challenges and preferences. Today’s main challenge in school design is to create spaces that can incorporate open learning environments that incorporate diversity of learning spaces, social interaction and sustainability.

The architecture industry seems to be constantly on the lookout for new materials and methodologies that better incorporate sustainability. One material that has stood the test of time, while finding room for innovation, is wood. In this context, British Columbia (Canada) stands out as one of the world’s largest exporters of wood products and has successfully applied a number of strategies to maximize its use in sustainable design. A notable example, which will be explored in this article, is the use of wood in schools.

Why use wood in schools?

Choosing wood as the primary material for school design helps create optimal and healthy learning environments for students, teachers and staff. In addition to being durable, renewable and supporting local economies and communities, this material is strong, durable and easy to modify or retrofit. British Columbia (BC) is pushing the boundaries of wood design and construction, providing schools with access to cutting-edge technologies.

Wood Use in British Columbia Schools“, by the architects reflection space and engineers Fast + Epp, is intended as a useful guide for individuals or organizations interested in the use of wood in schools, which has grown considerably in recent years. The introduction of timber elements of varying sizes and extents is largely due to advances in technology and acceptance by the design community and building officials.

Tutoring with Wood: Using Wood in Schools - Image 11 of 17
Belmont High School, Langford, BC. Barry Calhoun. Image courtesy of naturalwood.com

Solid wood and hybrid solid wood are both a viable alternative to concrete-steel construction. While providing alternative solutions to meet building code regulations, the introduction of solid wood beams and columns allows professionals to create large-scale learning quarters with flexible layouts.

British Columbia’s first three-storey solid wood hybrid elementary school

Ta’Talu Elementary School in Surrey, British Columbia, which will be completed in the spring of 2024, will be the first three-storey mass timber hybrid elementary school building in British Columbia. In addition to the added aesthetics, biophilic elements and enhanced learning properties of wood construction, hybrid solid wood was chosen as the main structural element to follow the school’s sustainability goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Tutoring with wood: Using wood in schools - Image 16 of 17
Ta’talu Elementary School, Surrey, BC Image courtesy of thinkspace
Tutoring with wood: Using wood in schools - Image 17 of 17
Ta’talu Elementary School, Surrey, BC Image courtesy of thinkspace

The combination of solid wood construction with other materials such as steel or concrete creates a hybrid system that makes the most of the properties of each material. Its flexibility and performance develop a typology that meets the complex code requirements and cost constraints for designing three- and four-story schools.

Reaching the Level: Advances in Wood Technology

Recent advances in wood technology include innovations in its manufacturing process, new products, structural connections and techniques, the introduction of Building Information Modeling (BIM) in mass timber construction and the computer numerical control (CNC) machining of solid wood.

Advancements in the efficiency of the solid wood manufacturing process include, among others, structural advances in the application of wood and changes in material standards and building codes. For example, British Columbia’s building code has included a new type of construction: encapsulated mass timber construction (EMTC), a process in which drywall is used to encase mass timber elements to ensure that the structure meets fire safety requirements.

The integration of BIM modeling will allow all parties to better understand a building, improve consultant coordination and avoid conflicts between structural, mechanical, electrical and architectural disciplines.

Well-being with wood: health benefits and biophilic

The introduction of wood into the design of schools creates a healthier environment which promotes both mental and physical well-being, while enhancing learning potential. The innate connection to nature it provides – biophilia – reduces stress and increases student productivity.

Between production, delivery and assembly, designing with wood provides lasting benefits, such as reducing the project’s carbon footprint while supporting jobs for people in communities across the province. Known as carbon sequestration, wood design is able to store carbon in a building over its lifetime, meaning a measurable amount of carbon is not released back into the environment .

Tutoring with Wood: Using Wood in Schools - Image 3 of 17
Kwakiutl Wagalus School, Port Hardy, BC. Lubor Trubka Associates. Image courtesy of naturalwood.com

Types of wood systems used in schools

When designing wooden schools, there are several ways to combine wooden systems for the needs of each project. Some of the options include structural solid wood and hybrid solid wood, as well as non-structural interior and exterior use.

Solid lumber consists of wooden components that are glued, nailed, or tied together into larger panel elements. In Belmont High Schoolsolid timber allows for faster and more efficient execution of structural elements, resulting in less disruption to the site while minimizing the length of time the structure is exposed to weather.

Tutoring with wood: Using wood in schools - Image 9 of 17
Samuel Brighouse Elementary School. Andre Latreille. Image courtesy of naturalwood.com

The combination of solid wood with other materials, such as concrete and steel, develops what is known as hybrid solid wood construction. In this type of system, solid wood can be used where it makes sense and combined with other materials to build assemblies. In some cases, additional tests must be performed to verify its performance, in accordance with new building code regulations. Sir Matthew Begbie Primary School and Bayview Elementary School illustrate the use of hybrid ground systems. These systems work best with specific design goals, such as their performance, element size, or spans.

Tutoring with Wood: Using Wood in Schools - Image 13 of 17
Bayview Elementary School, Vancouver, BC. Photograph by Wade Comer. Image courtesy of naturalwood.com
Tutoring with wood: Using wood in schools - Image 14 of 17
Sir Matthew Begbie Elementary School, Vancouver, British Columbia. Bright photography. Image courtesy of naturalwood.com

The future is wood: lessons learned for new projects

The introduction of solid wood in school design has generated a number of opportunities and lessons learned. The pre-engineered approach meant an accelerated construction schedule and an accelerated enclosure process with precise manufacturing tolerances. The faster construction time meant less time on site as well as reduced labor hours, providing significant financial savings. A key lesson learned after the projects have been completed is the truly welcoming environment created by exposed wood.

The use of wood in schools is here to stay. As government and school boards become aware of the versatility of wood design, there seems to be consensus that wood is an excellent choice for their students and their environmental mandates. Along with ongoing training efforts, it is essential for those in the industry – from the design, engineering and manufacturing sectors – to push the boundaries by providing a better understanding of solid wood and its capabilities.

Learn more about the report on wood use in British Columbia schools at naturalwood.com.

Norma A. Roth