Tall Wood: Special building, special permits

With such a unique design, Brock Commons needed a special permit from the province to see the artistic vision of the tall wood building come to life. 

Regulatory approvals are required to build a mass timber tower at elevations above the standard building code heights for constructing with wood. Typically, wood frame construction regulations allow the building of up to six storeys under the current BC building code, so for anything above that, — like the 18-storey Brock Commons — a site-specific regulation needs to be created, tailored to the building plans in question.

BC was the first province to allow for wooden building construction up to six storeys high, with legislation that has been in effect since 2009. Then the B.C. Building Act was passed in 2015, which allowed for wood buildings taller than six storeys, constructed under site-specific regulations. 

“The BC Building Act has been recently updated to allow innovative solutions in order to construct projects like Brock Commons,” said John Metras, managing director of infrastructure development at UBC. “We went through the BC Building and Safety Standards Branch of the government and they undertook quite a thorough and rigorous review of our design.”

“These regulations exempt specific innovative projects from parts of the building code and substitute unique new requirements to maintain a high level of safety,” wrote Lindsay Byers, media relations for the Ministry of Natural Gas Development and the Ministry of Responsible for Housing, in an email statement to The Ubyssey. “The Building Act provides a better legislative framework to enable innovative projects such as 18-storey mass wood buildings like UBC's Brock Commons residence to be built throughout the province.”

Despite the specificity required for the new regulations, the process went quite quickly, according to Metras, with the review and approval process taking approximately four months. He attributed this partially to the help of Campus and Community Planning, who still undertook all of the non-special permitting for Brock Commons, such as plumbing and electricity. 

“It was a very efficient(link) and effective process, and it drove out a very simple, sustainable, safe, cost-effective solution,” said Metras.