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Photo: KK Law


Brock Commons is one of our newest residence areas. It is home to Tallwood House—currently the tallest mass timber building in the world—which opened in July 2017. Brock Commons – Tallwood House is home to over 400 students who enjoy its central location, spectacular views and unique building features. [1]

UBC and the design team chose mass timber due to its strength, safety and performance, not to mention wood’s lighter carbon footprint. The innovative structural system is economically viable, repeatable and adaptable to other building types and uses. [2]

As Bruce Haden reported in this magazine during the building’s construction last year (See “Reaching New Heights,” Canadian Architect, February 2017), we know that mass timber is light, fast and clean; it’s good for the environment and for the Canadian forestry sector. For anyone still wondering why we don’t see more tall wood buildings, it remains largely a regulatory issue, as building codes scramble to catch up with the advances in material and construction methodology. 

AOA principal Russell Acton, approached this project as “a highly practical challenge with no ego,” and set out to deliver a mass-wood building that could be easily replicated by commercial developers. This workaday approach dovetailed nicely with the client’s goal to open a new student residence on time and on budget. The university’s Student Housing and Hospitality Services department (SHHS) is in the midst of a five-year building plan to deliver 4,000 new beds for on-campus housing. From the beginning of the project, AOA and SHHS set out to do a job with everyone working from the same page: Keep it simple. Get it Built.  [3]

Skeptics note that a substantive transformation of building construction would require a strong global culture of sustainable forest management. Although there are important examples of responsible forestry around the world, there are far more examples of short-term cut-and-run management of the world’s trees. Nonetheless, the lightness of mass timber, its ability to reduce the emissions generated by concrete and steel production and construction where appropriate, and the opportunity to nurture an advanced Canadian wood industry are all clear benefits. [4]

Key elements of the preconstruction planning included an integrated design workshop; virtual design and construction modeling as well as a full-scale, two-storey proof of concept mock-up. The mock-up was built off-site to test and validate the construction of the hybrid structural system and prefabricated mass timber and building envelope components. Using a crew of nine, the mass timber construction was completed less than 70 days after the prefabricated components arrived on site, approximately two months faster than a typical project of this size. Prefabrication also reduced on-site waste by about two thirds. Construction of Brock Commons demonstrated that its innovative mass timber hybrid structural system is economically viable, repeatable and adaptable to other building types and uses. 

Canada is recognized as a global leader in sustainable forest management and has more land independently certified to international forest certification programs than any other jurisdiction in the world. Certification gives added assurance that Canadian forest products are from legal, sustainable sources and are managed to consider environmental, social and economic values. The range of engineered and mass timber products from Canada offer incredible design versatility and high-performance options for any building project, residential or commercial. B.C. is a leader in wood building systems and technologies, with projects showcased across the province. Many, such as Brock Commons Tallwood House, are garnering international attention, creating new market opportunities for B.C. wood products and building technologies. Tall wood structures, built with renewable wood products from responsibly managed forests, such as those in Canada, can help transform a construction industry that is increasingly focused on accelerating the adoption of more sustainable practices in the built environment. [5]

The newest addition to UBC’s sustainable building portfolio, Brock Commons Tallwood House was developed as part of the Tall Wood Building Demonstration Initiative launched in 2013 by National Resources Canada and Canadian Wood Council to showcase wood-based solutions for high-rise buildings and build industry capabilities in Canada.  

In addition to providing much-needed housing for students, the building also aligns with UBC’s Campus as a Living Lab initiative, as a demonstration of innovation and an opportunity for research and learning. [6]

International Prize for Wood Architecture, 2018
Lieutenant Governor of BC Award, 2018
Sustainable Architecture & Building Green Award, 2018
Canadian Wood Council Wood Works Architect Award, 2018
Canadian Wood Council Wood Works Innovation Award, 2018
Canadian Wood Council Wood Works Engineer Award, 2018
Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat Award Finalist, 2018
Lieutenant Governor of BC Engineering Excellence Award, 2018
Vancouver Regional Construction Association Award, 2018
Premier’s Innovation & Excellence Award, 2017
Canadian Wood Council Special Jury Award, 2017
Institution of Structural Engineers Innovation Award, 2017
NCSEA Excellence in Structural Engineering Award, 2017
Construction Dive Five Favourite Projects of the Year, 2017
Fast Company Innovation by Design Finalist, 2017


[1]    “Brock Commons – Tallwood House.” Vancouver. Accessed July 5, 2021. https://vancouver.housing.ubc.ca/residences/brock-commons/.


[2]    “Brock Commons Tallwood House Design Process.” naturally, June 9, 2021. https://www.naturallywood.com/resource/brock-commons-tallwood-house-design-process-3-part-video-series/.


[3]     Healey, Courtney. “Standing Tall: Brock Commons Tallwood House, University of British Columbia, Vancouver.” Canadian Architect, February 28, 2018. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/brock-commons-acton-ostry-standing-tall/.


[4]     Haden, Bruce. “Reaching New Heights.” Canadian Architect, April 10, 2019. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/reaching-new-heights-2/.


[5]     “Brock Commons Tallwood House.” Naturally:Wood. Government of British Columbia, Forestry Innovation Investment, n.d. https://sustain.ubc.ca/sites/default/files/brock_commons_tallwood_house_apr_2018_web_003.pdf.


[6]     “Brock Commons Tallwood House.” sustain.ubc.ca, June 1, 2021. https://sustain.ubc.ca/research/research-collections/brock-commons-tallwood-house.

Additional information

“Brock Commons Tallwood House UBC Hybrid Mass Timber Building.” Acton Ostry Architects, October 22, 2019. https://www.actonostry.ca/project/brock-commons-tallwood-house/.


“Brock Commons Tallwood House – Vancouver, BC.” SABMag, August 15, 2019. https://sabmagazine.com/residential-large-award-winner/.


“Case Study: Brock Commons Tallwood House.” Use of Low-Carbon and Renewable Materials in LEED Projects. Government of British Columbia, n.d. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/environment/climate-change/cng/resources/case-studies/lcm-casestudies-bcth.pdf.

Hasan, Zoya Gul. “Inside Vancouver’s Brock Commons, the World’s Tallest Mass Timber Building.” ArchDaily. ArchDaily, September 18, 2017. https://www.archdaily.com/879625/inside-vancouvers-brock-commons-the-worlds-tallest-timber-structured-building.

“Brock Commons Tallwood House: Acton Ostry Architects.” Archello. Accessed July 5, 2021. https://archello.com/project/brock-commons-tallwood-house.

“Brock Commons Tallwood House.” Think Wood, September 22, 2020. https://www.thinkwood.com/projects/brock-commons-tallwood-house.


Brock Commons Tallwood House – Chapter 1: Overview. YouTube. Naturally Wood, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G22kYhaT-h4.


Brock Commons Tallwood House – Chapter 2: Design Process. YouTube. Naturally Wood, 2017. https://youtu.be/ABQHbNwvU_s.


Brock Commons Tallwood House – Chapter 3: Construction Process. YouTube. Naturally Wood, 2017. https://youtu.be/Fmuj4XeHsbo.


Brock Commons Tallwood House – a Virtual Tour. YouTube. Natural Resources CA, 2018. https://youtu.be/5Mn00vIU6iU.


Project Title: Brock Commons Tallwood House
Artists:  Acton Ostry Architects
Place: Vancouver, BC

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