Canadian Consulting Engineer

RECYCLED BUILDINGS: Materials Testing Facility

Engineers patched and improvised to design a building almost entirely of recycled materials in Vancouver.When structural engineer Paul Fast, P.Eng. of Fast + Epp, and architect Michael McColl of Busby...

December 1, 2001  Canadian Consulting Engineer

Engineers patched and improvised to design a building almost entirely of recycled materials in Vancouver.

When structural engineer Paul Fast, P.Eng. of Fast + Epp, and architect Michael McColl of Busby + Associates, arrived on the site of the proposed Materials Testing Laboratory in an industrial area of southeast Vancouver near the Fraser River, they came armed with a calculator in hand. They faced a pile of old glulam beams and wood decking, some steel columns and four damaged timber trusses. From this salvaged material from an old warehouse they were to make the new building. The result, completed in late 1999 for $700,000, is far from the Frankenstein you might expect of such a mishmash of objects. Instead it is an eyecatching, simple structure that contains an office, storage areas and industrial laboratory where the city tests road materials such as asphalt. It also serves as a demonstration project for the re-use of building materials. They constitute 95% of the above-ground structure.

Designing a building from used material presented some interesting problems and called for imagination and flexibility in the approach — especially because the stockpile kept diminishing due to a fire and pilfering by local thieves.

The designers decided to use the old trusses along the sides of the building, which dictated its basic length of 22-metres. Two of the trusses were badly damaged and their connections did not meet current codes, but they were patched and repaired where necessary. When a professional grader announced that the truss material was much lower than the designers had thought, however, they had to adjust their original concept and added a V-shaped wood base at each end. This support reduced the span and lowered the member and connection stresses to a manageable level. At the same time it added a distinguishing architectural feature to the historic trusses that lend the building character.

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The salvage pile included much more 5″ x 13″ glue-laminated wood than the designers needed for the beams and column support, so they decided to lay the extra material on its side and use it for a solid wood floor on the second floor. The wood gave a warm ambience to the interior, and because of its thickness there was no need for further fire protection. They reused old 2″ x 6″ tongue and groove timber decking as roof decking and as wall sheathing. On the walls it was placed diagonally for rigidity similar to the way it was used 50 years ago. Leftover steel crane columns were used to frame the building’s garage entrance.

The mechanical consultants, Keen Engineering, were also able to re-use materials and equipment. One of the roof top air units as well as 30 per cent of the plumbing fixtures were salvaged from another site, while a unit heater and laboratory hoods were imported from the facility’s old premises. The building uses natural ventilation to reduce energy consumption, and a flow-through air concept in the laboratory; tempered air is delivered to the clean laboratory and transferred to the dirtier laboratory to be exhausted through hoods and fans.

Fast + Epp have gone on to design several more buildings with recycled structural materials, including the SunTech Optics building in North Vancouver using deep glulam beams from an old Eaton’s warehouse, and the Port Moodie Sail and Paddle Centre using Douglas fir trusses from a historic cedar mill. Paul Fast notes that there are seldom savings in using recycled timber compared to new wood because of the amount of waste, and due to the contractor’s extra labour costs in having to patch and clean up the material, remove nails etc. However, any extra expense is worth it for some clients. “What you are paying for is a piece of history,” Fast says.

“Most engineers would treat this type of project as a headache,” he adds, but says what is needed is a new approach: “The engineer almost has to act as a broker, connecting the client with the material.” Fast has built up some good contacts in the industry, and is “just a phone call away” from people who know what salvage material is coming down the line. “You have to be there at the right time and in the right place.” The task of locating the right recycled materials will become easier through the internet. Fast sometimes uses www.iconstrux.com, a Vancouver outfit that acts as a central clearing house for new and recycled construction materials.CCE

Client: City of Vancouver Engineering Services

Structural engineer: Fast + Epp (Paul Fast, P.Eng., Duane Palibroda, P.Eng.)

Mechanical: Keen Engineering (Jim Burns, P.Eng.)

Architect: Busby + Associates

continued on page 30

Photo: Martin Tessler/Busby & Assoc.

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