Located seventy kilometres east of Vancouver in the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford Senior Secondary School features wood as part of a major rehabilitation and replacement project.
Central to its design, and crowning the school’s three-storey structure, is an intricate and impressive timber rotunda roof built of exposed glue-laminated timber and wood decking. School principal and educator Rob Comeau shares how wood is making the school a place where students feel at home, whether they’re enjoying a piano concert in the rotunda or getting hands-on experience building a tiny wood house as part of their green technology program.
Q: Why did you pursue a career in education?
A: I was born and raised in Alberta on a farm. I did my undergrad in agriculture and came out at the wrong time to be a farmer and rancher in the early 1980s. I went to my second love, which was teaching.
Q: Describe your connection to wood as a building material.
A: When working on the farm, wood was a tool. It was a fence post, it was a crossbeam, it was the outside of a grain bin. It was simply functional. On the farm, it wasn’t meant to create an emotion, but here in B.C. you see the craftsmanship that people can put into the design of a building and how beautiful wood can look.
Q: What makes a school well designed?
A: Open spaces and light are some of the best design qualities in a school. If you’re in a dark, dingy cubicle, you’re not feeling very good about where you are. When you can see light and the natural craftsmanship of wood that exists here, those are good design features. That’s B.C. architecture—light, wood, and space.
Q: Abbotsford Senior Secondary School underwent a major rehabilitation and replacement project. Can you elaborate on how wood was used in the structural and finishing components?
A: It’s a blend of old meets new and it’s done in a classy way. When you walk in, you’re immediately drawn to the grandeur of the rotunda. There are some very interesting design pieces that catch your eye when you come in. Aesthetically, wood is beautiful, and it speaks to who we are as British Columbians.
Q: How did the new design of the school reuse some of the existing wood from the original structure?
A: When they took the ceiling out, they found beautiful rafters. They looked at them and they said, “We can’t destroy this.” We’ve exposed those rafters, stained them, and it is the most gorgeous, inviting gym that you’d ever want to walk into. And some of the older parents still recognize the wood from beams we’ve repurposed as seats in our rotunda. It’s a conversation starter of their memories and time in the school. Now our international baccalaureate business class is going to open up a coffee shop and we’re going to take those remaining reclaimed beams and make them into the countertops and high-top tables— refashioning that wood one more time to create another wonderful part of the building. Wood has a way of speaking to you, years, even decades later.
Q: Research is demonstrating that the visual presence of wood indoors can significantly reduce stress levels. Do you experience this in your school?
A: I think you definitely feel better once you’ve been in a space that incorporates wood. It clears your head. We often have students that just come to the rotunda to be there, enjoy the space, and hang out. It’s open and the wood beams are beautiful and inviting. I think it helps with anxiety.
An increasing number of health-care facilities are incorporating wood to provide patients and visitors with a warm, natural aesthetic, and a calm, stress-reducing connection to nature.
Research begins to show the biophilic benefits of wood, which suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature. Study results show students who spent time in rooms featuring natural wood exhibited lower stress reactivity. During all three periods of the study, stress, as measured by sympathetic nervous system activation, was measurably lower on average in the rooms featuring wood than in the non-wood office.
The bold, striking use of wood throughout the space — uncommon in such health-care settings— softens the hospital’s institutional feel and creates a calm, stress-reducing connection to nature, while standing up to weather, wear and tear, and rigorous maintenance. As the research on biophilic benefits of wood continues to grow, one of B.C.’s busiest hospitals leads the way in offering patients a comforting, supportive, and healing environment.
For architect and timber advocate Peter Busby, wood is one of nature’s greatest innovations
B.C. forest products are a predominant structural and finishing material for a wide range of transit infrastructure throughout the province, including airports, bus exchanges and SkyTrain stations. Learn more about the use of wood in transportation projects.
Learn about the latest wood design and construction trends within these four building applications while earning Architectural Institute of British Columbia (AIBC) recognized continuing learning units towards professional development.
With its wide-ranging use of different wood species, the Prince George Airport demonstrates how a high-traffic building can benefit from the resilience, versatility, durability, and thermal characteristics of wood. These were important considerations for this northern city, situated at the confluence of the Fraser and Nechako Rivers, which is prone to cold, harsh winters.
An effective insulator with a warm aesthetic, wood is particularly well suited to the demanding atmospheres of swimming pools — as well as ice rinks in arenas. Wood tolerates high levels of humidity, offers acoustic and thermal benefits, and absorbs and releases water vapour without compromising its structural integrity. Indoor pool design has evolved to include ample use of natural light and bold, innovative uses of B.C. wood from sustainably managed forests.
Interview with Darryl Condon, Managing Principal of HCMA Architecture + Design, who has embraced and often pioneered the use of wood and mass timber in community, civic, and recreational aquatic facilities throughout British Columbia and Canada. He shares why wood is often an integral material in the buildings they design, and how they’ve pushed the boundaries of what is possible with wood.
Located in John Hendry Park in east Vancouver, this ice rink was the first phase in the replacement of an aging community centre facility. The rink served as a practice facility for competitors who participated in the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and opened for public use after the Games.