Canadian Consulting Engineer

Soaring wood roof draws praise at Richmond Olympic Oval

December 15, 2008
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Two new components of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games have just opened to the public.

Two new components of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games have just opened to the public.

The Richmond Olympic Oval for speed skating overlooking the Fraser River near Vancouver International Airport opened to great acclaim to the public on December 15. Stealing the limelight was the dramatic and original structural design of the roof, which was designed by the Vancouver firm of Fast & Epp. Glotman Simpson are structural engineers for the base building, and Cannon Design are the architects.

The roof consists of slender composite glulam and steel arches spanning nearly 100 metres over the ice, making them among the largest clear span structures in the world. The beams were assembled in three sections on the site and lifted into place using a crane brought from Japan. Along the north side of the building the roof lifts and reveals large windows looking onto the North Shore mountains.

Gerald Epp of Fast and Epp explains the design of the roof, which he and Paul Epp were both involved in: “The arches are true composite wood/steel. The pair of glulam beams (splayed in a vee) are 175 mm thick and 1,700 mm deep, with a steel “skating blade” at bottom and linking steel members at top, both heavily screwed to the glulam to create the composite action. The steel helps primarily to handle the bending due to unbalanced snow loading. 


Linking the arches are large “Wood Wave” panels 14 metres wide designed and built by StructureCraft/Fast and Epp. The wood panels are an assembly of 2 x 4 lumber that according to Epp: “satisfies structural, acoustic and fire protection constraints, in addition to the interesting aesthetic properties it provides.”

The panel lumber is pine killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle and milled near Williams Lake. The roof uses an amount of wood equivalent to 6,000 trees.

The provincial government is hoping that more building designers will follow the Oval’s example in using the pine-killed wood as a sustainable design strategy. By 2007 the beetle infestation had ravaged over 13 million hectares of forest in B.C. alone. The wood turns red in the first year of infestation, and then takes on a blue-grey tinge.

The city of Richmond built the Oval after the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) requested bids for the project (originally the Oval was to have been built at Simon Fraser University). The Richmond Oval contains two international size ice rinks, eight gymnasiums, a 200 metre running track and 23,000 square foot fitness centre. Aside from its use during the Games, the Oval will be used by the public as a community centre. The building cost $178 million, of which the roof cost $14 million.

Another Olympic facility just officially opened, on December 12, is a new gondola cable ride called PEAK 2 PEAK which will take skiers between the Blackcomb and Whistler mountains. Designed and built by CWA in Switzerland, the 28 “Sky Cabins,” will travel across the Fitzimmon’s Valley, 436 metres below, and have glass bottoms for riders to enjoy the view.

The Peak 2 Peak Gondola ropework spans a total of 4.4 kilometres, but it includes a record-breaking unsupported span of 3 kilometres. The splicing of the haul rope to create a continuous loop took place in August. The splice was 68 metres long and took a crew of 14 people over five hours to complete.

While construction on the athletes’ villages in Vancouver and Whistler continues (the village in Vancouver is embroiled in controversy over the financing), the only competition venue for the 2010 games still to be completed is a curling rink in Queen Elizabeth Park.



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