Canadian Consulting Engineer

Fast + Epp / Glotman • Simpson Richmond Olympic Oval

When the city of Richmond was awarded the long track speed skating venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, it asked the design team to create an iconic building that would meet international spe...

October 1, 2010   Canadian Consulting Engineer

When the city of Richmond was awarded the long track speed skating venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, it asked the design team to create an iconic building that would meet international speed skating ice standards.

Architecturally the building was to reflect the speed skaters’ “flight and flow” movements, as well as capture views to the nearby Fraser River and North Shore Mountains. The structure also had to showcase B.C. wood products and reflect sustainable design practices.

Base Structure

For Glotman Simpson, who were structural engineers for the building’s base structure, a true challenge was designing a building with a level ice surface that would meet the Olympics’ exacting standards. The challenge arose because the site has notoriously unstable soils. Pressure from the 33,000-m2 building had to be spread in almost perfect uniformity across the site’s boggy surface. Nearby buildings were known to settle as much as 200 mm, but the level of the Richmond Olympic Oval could not vary any more than 3 mm in 3000 mm, nor 20 mm over its full length — a distance 4 times the length of a football field.

The solution is a concrete basement structure on a very large, 6-acre concrete foundation raft (see photo p. 28). The approach provides exceptionally good control over the levelness of the building. The raft raised the ice slab to above grade, which improved the interior environment, and it eliminated the need for expensive deep foundations.

Three contingency plans have been devised in case the ice structure needs to be readjusted to level at any time in the future. The plans include adjusting the column length, adjusting the ice slab by screw jacks, or foam injection.

Sweeping Arched Roof

Fast + Epp structural engineers designed the roof, which has achieved much acclaim. It has sweeping long-span timber and steel hybrid arches -a world first. The arches support an array of “Wood Wave” panels.

The hybrid hollow wood-steel arches span 310 ft. to support the primary roof loads. The arches are V-shaped in cross-section and consist of 67″ high glue-laminated timber slabs connected at the bottom apex with a steel blade and at the top with shallow steel I-beams and angle bracing. The arches are supported at each end by the concrete buttresses that cantilever out of the basement substructure.

The hollow arches conceal all the mechanical and electrical services within the arch, creating a striking, uncluttered architectural expression. The silver-coloured structural steel blade on the bottom of the arch metaphorically refers to the speed skating function of the Oval.

Between the primary arches, the Wood Wave roof panels span roughly 45 feet. Comprising pine-beetle kill 2×4’s and plywood sheeting, the 12-ft. wide panels are tied with tension rods and take on a wave form in cross section in order to maximize their structural stability. The wave form also increases the exposed roof surface area by 40% and, when fitted with acoustic insulation, optimizes the building’s acoustic performance.

The Oval’s roof structure responds to global environmental challenges by using a rapidly renewable resource –wood –on an unprecedented scale. The roof incorporates large volumes of wood from forests being killed by the pine beetle epidemic; the wood is harvested before it deteriorates and loses its structural capacity. The base structure reduces its carbon footprint by incorporating recycled steel and high volumes of fly ash in the concrete.

Computer Models, Studies and Fabrication

Sophisticated structural analysis software was used for the design. A major issue with the composite wood and steel arches was the different temperature related expansion and contraction characteristics of the materials, as well as shrinkage in the large wood pieces. The connection details were designed to accommodate the materials’ differential movement.

Only one steel fabricator was willing to have its ironworkers receive massive slabs of glulam timber in its shop, execute the complicated tasks of assembling the wood with the steel components, and carry out the complex erection procedure.

Close to a full year of analysis and testing was required to achieve the optimal solution for the Wood Wave panels. An affiliated company of Fast + Epp, StructureCraft Builders, produced the 450 panels for a fixed price and on a tight delivery schedule.

At roughly $80 per square foot, the roof structure was not only economically viable, but was completed a full year ahead of the 2010 Olympics. The use of precast modular elements in the base structure also helped achieve the budget and schedule efficiencies.

Though it was built for the 2010 Olympics, the speed skating oval has been designed for a 100-year life, and is poised to provide significant and long-lasting benefits for the local community.

Project name: Richmond Olympic Oval, B.C., Structural Engineering

Award-winning firms: (roof structure engineers) Fast + Epp, Vancouver (Paul Fast, P. Eng., Gerald Epp, P. Eng., Julien Fagnan, P. Eng., Derek Ratzlaff, P. Eng., Mark Robertson, P. Eng.); (base structure engineers) Glotman Simpson, Vancouver (Rob Simpson, P. Eng., Anthony El-Araj, P. Eng.)

Owner: City of Richmond

Architect: Cannon Design; Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden (urban design)

Other key players: MHPM (project manager); Stantec (mechanical/electrical); Thurber Engineering (geotechnical); Golder Associates (environmental); Delcan (civil)


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