Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry
Issue 12 - Evidence - Meeting of December 3, 2009
OTTAWA, Thursday, December 3, 2009
The Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry met this day at
8:10 a.m. to study the current state and future of Canada's forest sector.
Senator Percy Mockler (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning, honourable senators and witnesses. I declare
this meeting in session.
I want to welcome you to this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on
Agriculture and Forestry.
My name is Senator Percy Mockler. I am from New Brunswick and am chair of the
committee. I will start today by asking the senators to introduce themselves,
beginning on my left.
Senator Mercer: I am Senator Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia.
Senator Fairbairn: I am Senator Joyce Fairbairn from Lethbridge,
Senator Poulin: Good morning, Ms. McCabe. Good morning, Mr. Bessai.
Welcome to our committee. I am Senator Marie Poulin, and I represent Northern
Ontario in the Senate.
Senator Mahovlich: I am Senator Frank Mahovlich, Ontario.
Senator Finley: I am Senator Doug Finley, Ontario.
Senator Eaton: Thank you for coming today. I am Senator Nicole Eaton,
Senator Rivard: Good morning. I am Senator Michel Rivard, and I
represent the Quebec region.
The Chair: Thank you very much. The committee is continuing its study
on the current state and future of Canada's forest sector.
Today, we welcome witnesses from the University of Toronto: Mr. Tom Bessai,
Director, Architectural Studies Program, John H. Daniels Faculty of
Architecture, Landscape and Design; and also Ms. Brenda McCabe, Faculty of
Applied Science and Engineering, Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering,
and Associate Professor.
I thank you for accepting our invitation to appear before the committee so
that we can bring to the attention of governments and industry a report that
will no doubt permit the industry to look at solutions for all stakeholders.
Mr. Bessai, please proceed with your presentation.
Tom Bessai, Director, Architectural Studies Program, John H. Daniels
Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, University of Toronto: Thank
you for inviting me and my colleague from the University of Toronto to appear on
this important study.
I will try to keep my initial statement to less than 10 minutes. I will fold
an introduction of my work into my role at the Faculty of Architecture at the
University of Toronto. As part of that, I will follow with a discussion of our
curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels as well as some speaking
points about the kind of issues facing education and research in this area. I
will make note of a couple of public buildings that are engaged in the use of
I am a faculty member and the director of the undergraduate program of the
Faculty of Architecture at the University of Toronto and an active studio
instructor at the master's level. I have an undergraduate art and design degree
from the University of Alberta, and my Bachelor of Architecture from UBC. I went
to the United States to do a post-graduate professional degree at UCLA in the
I am a practitioner and a professor. Currently, I have a small practice in
Toronto where I do mostly small-scale projects. I also work in collaboration
with larger firms, including Kearns Mancini and others. I was a design architect
with Frank Gehry's office in California and was able to work on a number of
projects in the U.S., such as the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park,
Chicago, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, where there is a
significant use of wood materials as an interior finishing strategy in some of
the public halls and in the concert hall. I have some work experience in
Barcelona, Spain, where I worked with wood in a European context.
The undergraduate architectural studies program at the University of Toronto
is liberal-arts-based. It is not connected to the professional training of
architects but is a kind of preparatory degree that focuses on the
interconnection between studies in architecture and other studies in liberal
arts, humanities and the sciences. For that reason, it sits between the Faculty
of Architecture and the Faculty of Arts and Science, the latter being the
largest faculty at the University of Toronto. Like many faculties, we are
looking at making changes to our curriculum, which the arts and sciences have
been pushing for. I will speak to the program relevant to this topic.
The undergraduate program has courses in history, theory and architecture.
The mention of wood construction is put into a historical and theoretical
context. The discussion of these topics would include their precedence,
important historic buildings and important Canadian projects. We have a building
science stream in the program, despite its liberal arts focus, because there is
a mandate to do some technical work. We have an introduction to structures, wood
framing and wood construction, but it is in the context of a broader discussion
of the principles of construction.
We have a design studio cycle in the program. As an educator, I have been
most directly involved in that. In the introductory studio we have students
working directly with many different materials, in particular using wood to make
We have a tectonic studio where there is theoretical exploration using real
materials in construction assemblies. The use of wood is prevalent. Another
studio is more advanced in looking at a comprehensive building. The students
work with the design instructor, who is typically a local architect. As well,
they are asked to consult with a structural engineer, who comes into the studio.
One of the projects is to build a frame model and explore the various truss
systems. They tend to execute those projects using wood, but they are not held
to the exclusive use of wood in those studies.
I will speak now to the Master of Architecture program at the University of
Toronto. I have been teaching in the studio stream in the core and in option
studios. As well, I have been teaching in the core and option courses for
advanced computation and technology, which is one of my specializations coming
out of my work experience at Frank Gehry's office. In this capacity, I educate
the students on the use of advanced fabrication techniques and the
materialization of these techniques in real materials for construction. I also
participate in the thesis stream, where students initiate independent projects.
It is more of a design thesis program rather than a research thesis. This is
fairly typical of all schools in Canada. I act as a thesis adviser in that
capacity. Students are free to choose the direction they pursue. Given that it
is a design thesis, we tend to push them toward executing a complex building
project, if possible. Many of my students have pursued those. We also have a
stream where students in the professional program are required to do an
independent study project. I have guided a couple of those to do with advanced
fabrication techniques. One in particular comes to mind: a student was looking
at the use of a computer-controlled three-axis milling machine. This relates to
the technologies around joinery that are being taught and their importance in
the industry. The student was looking into wood joinery using that device to try
to take advantage of the computer environment and the fabrication environment to
do complex joinery. Testing that with real materials leads one to recognize the
limitations and the possibilities of those technologies.
The curriculum of the master's professional program generally is consistent
with other programs at other schools in Canada. Sometimes the professional
degrees are offered as undergraduate programs and sometimes they are graduate
programs. For example, UBC and the University of Toronto have graduate-level
We have a core curriculum that takes students through the history and theory.
It does not expose them directly to or put a particular emphasis on wood.
However, through precedent studies there is a lot of discussion of various
building materials, including wood.
The master's program has more serious technical courses. The pertinent ones
are structures. There are two structures courses taught by professional
engineers and educators. We have building science courses as well. There is a
dual focus in building science. One has to do with life safety issues. The
responsibility of the architect is to ensure that people can egress from
buildings safely. There is also an emphasis, on the technical front, on building
systems, such as facade systems, building envelope, heating, ventilating, et
cetera. There is emphasis as well on pursuing the issues of sustainability,
renewable resources and energy conservation in regard to these core courses.
With regard to the master's studio cycle, the course I wanted to give some
importance to within this discussion is a core architectural design studio
course in the second year of the program called the Comprehensive Building
Project. It is usually run by Barry Sampson of Baird Sampson Neuert, a reputable
architect in Toronto. You may have heard of his work. That studio emphasizes the
synthesis of these various building systems. It tends to be a public building, a
building that would require long spans, but not a massive building. It is a
useful and interesting experimental and technical environment for the
exploration of wood for structure, and it has been the mandate for some students
in that course and some of the projects given in that studio to look at wood.
I want to mention a couple of other faculty members who are pertinent to this
discussion. If there are questions later about the structure of the core
professional curriculum, we can go over that again.
We have a new dean at the faculty, Richard Sommer. In the current climate,
where there are certain cutbacks and we are scrambling for funding, he is very
interested in a renewed focus in research at our faculty. Attendant to that will
be a PhD program. Technology and regional issues are forefront on his agenda.
Dean Sommer has just begun his tenure of about five years, so this is a good
time to think about his capacity to make changes.
David Lieberman, an associate professor, teaches a very interesting options
studio that Ms. McCabe knows about. It pairs engineering students from our
engineering faculty with architects from the master's program, and they do a
technical project. In this studio, which is run every year, they have focused on
wood construction, trusses and structural conditions using wood. Mr. Lieberman
has also been involved in the North House, which is more an initiative of a
University of Waterloo's architecture program. It is an interesting
carbon-neutral modular building that was presented at the Solar Decathlon in
Washington this year. Although it was on a small scale, it looked at renewable
resources in a serious way, and many components within that project are wood.
I mentioned Barry Sampson and his comprehensive building studio. Shane
Williamson is an associate professor who heads up the fabrication technologies
at the faculty.
I want to mention a couple of the other faculties, just to get them on the
table, because our curricula are very closely related and I have some insight
into these other schools. There is a faculty of architecture at UBC at a
master's level. Calgary has a faculty of architecture. In Winnipeg, the
University of Manitoba runs their program at the undergraduate level, which
bleeds into the graduate level, so their professional degree is a master's.
Ryerson University in Toronto is coming on stream with an accredited
professional program. It is very new and is at the master's level. As you can
imagine, Ryerson's roots are in technical training, so it will probably be
important in this discussion around technology and the use of regional materials
as time goes on, but that program is in its early stages.
Some of you may know that the University of Waterloo shifted its faculty of
architecture to Cambridge, with great success. Due to their location in the
technology belt in Ontario, it is well-suited to pursue advanced technologies
and techniques to do with construction and materials.
Carleton University runs an undergraduate program, I believe, which is their
professional program. In Quebec, there are McGill and the University of
Montreal. McGill's is a technically oriented program that has a
post-professional master's, but its main degree is an undergraduate. Finally,
the Technical University of Nova Scotia has a new name for its faculty, but it
is the East Coast faculty.
Those are the schools at play. That is where all the Canadian architects are
Some of the faculties, the University of Toronto's in particular, have
cultivated close relationships with some of the Ivy League schools. That is
something we Canadians try to deal with as best we can. It is a great advantage
in some ways, while in others it tends to blur the issues around Canadian
practice and Canadian themes.
I will conclude by noting some points we might speak to, depending on how
much time we have.
The issues that we see as important from the point of view of education in
architecture include the legislative environment around building and the LEED
program. LEED is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a set of
standards that govern the performance of buildings. It is a fairly new
international program that has been in place for about five years. There is the
LEED Gold standard, et cetera. LEED Platinum is the highest honour for a
building. It is a measure of a building's sustainability. A couple of categories
that are important for LEED include the building's energy performance and its
use of renewable resources within its various component parts.
Another important point is technology and research. There is a need for
innovation around the topic of wood construction. More specifically, for longer
spans we are using various kinds of composite wood materials. Some of them are
parallam and microlam. Glulam is a 20th century technology of laminated wood.
These are the hybridization and advancement of various wood products for
performance in cold climates as well as for structural capacity. As well, use of
wood within composite assemblies — for example, where wood and steel are used
together — is crucial. These areas need more research. The more research there
is in these areas at the institutions, the greater comfort level there will be
in industry for people to use these products.
Finally, I want to refer to a couple of buildings from Canadian architects
and others. We had a nice discussion about Arthur Erickson. He would be a useful
figure to position within the late-modern period in Canada for his very
effective use of wood in smaller-scale projects, such as the Smith House in
Vancouver, as well as in larger-scale projects, the paradigm being the space
frame canopy at Simon Fraser University from perhaps the 1970s. It is a
composite frame that uses wood in a public building.
Frank Gehry's Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto is a very important recent
project. Many of you will have seen or heard of this. It is absolutely invested
in wood as a finishing material and a as structural material. Much complex
joinery is used in the building envelope.
Hariri Pontarini, Toronto-based architects, have done a number of projects. I
am most familiar with the ones at the University of Toronto. The new economics
faculty and the Munk Centre at Wordsworth College are examples of institutional
buildings beyond the residential scale where wood is used as a structural and
cladding material and is a feature of the public spaces of the buildings.
The work of Tye Farrow is significant. In a number of acute care and regional
health centres in the Toronto region, he has chosen to use wood structurally and
as a cladding material within the overflow and lounge spaces. The effect of
these spaces has been medicinal and calming for patients in these institutions,
and he has had great success.
One issue, which I think will come up in discussion, has been fire
prevention. Certain measures must be taken to ensure that wood structures allow
for the appropriate egress time out of a public space. They have managed to
solve that through a misting sprinkler system where the misters are located
around the column structures.
Another example from Vancouver is the Hotson Bakker Boniface Haden Richmond
Olympic Oval that we will all see in the next month. It is a feature building
that is engaged in the use of wood construction. This public building is for
I will finish there for my statements. Sorry that it was more than my 10
minutes. That is the problem with academic architects: we talk too much.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Ms. McCabe is next.
Brenda Y. McCabe, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Chair of the
Department of Civil Engineering, Associate Professor, University of Toronto:
Thank you for allowing me to participate in this study.
The civil engineering program, an undergraduate professional program, is a
four-year program. Students start in first year with common curricula. They take
physics, chemistry, and some courses in geology, mathematics and programming.
Once we get past that, we get into specific things related to civil engineering.
We talk about economics and probability and statistics. We also have several
streams that are important to the civil engineering context. Those include the
environmental engineering stream, which relates to clean water, water treatment,
and water cycles; and the geotechnical stream, which deals with the foundations
and earth works upon which most buildings are founded. We also have
transportation within the department. We have transportation design, road design
and traffic issues. We are all familiar with those. However, the part of the
program that relates to wood is that dealing with the materials related to civil
engineering. Those materials include steel, concrete, wood and timber, glass and
From the materials part, the students learn more about structures as a whole.
We teach the students about structures in a conceptual way related to trusses,
for example, and where the forces are on the snow loads. We then teach them more
about the application of those materials in actual design. The designs may be
related to any of the materials. Some things are quite an overview of structural
analysis, and then we get into the actual application of the different materials
into that design process and the analysis of existing buildings and any kind of
remediation they might need. Thus, there is also the analysis side.
Within that four-year curriculum, the specific courses that provide some
context to wood include a first-year course that looks at materials. The
instructors have wonderful large blocks of wood that they break and show
students, because it is such a visual and auditory experience — and students
love to see things broken. It gives them a real understanding of material and
how it performs. We also have a couple of weeks in second year related to
various materials. There are about two and a half weeks specific to timber
material, its properties and strength, and various properties in that way.
We also have a course called Timber and Steel Design. About two and a half
weeks of the 13 weeks are specific to timber. Part of the remainder is specific
to steel, but also there are many similarities between the two materials, in
that there are set sizes of members. You have two-by-fours, and so on; steel
also has set sizes. The analysis is common and there is commonality between the
two materials. That is covered in the course as well.
We also have a building science course where we look at structures to see how
the building envelope, which separates the inside from the outside, performs.
Part of that is covered through timber structures and part through masonry
structures and concrete.
We then have a construction course that provides information about temporary
structures used in construction, including form work, which is often made of
wood, for concrete buildings and also some shoring for excavations — that is,
where they use timber to shore the excavation for safety purposes.
As my colleague mentioned, we have the Yolles Collaborative Studio with
architecture. A lot of that is done in the wood venue because it is easy for the
students to visualize and understand. They use a lot of material, so the
projects within that course are done with wood.
One of your questions was whether it is adequate? Do we provide enough
background? We do not really differentiate between residential buildings,
commercial buildings, institutional buildings or any other exact application,
because we are more interested in ensuring that the students can take the
knowledge and apply it anywhere. Consequently, I believe the coverage is
appropriate. We often reflect the way the industry is practising and ensure that
the students have the skills sets that are the current practice within the
We cover the material itself, the structural applications, and the temporary
types of structures within wood. At the current time, I am unaware of any
specific projects related to wood at the graduate level. In part, that is
because we do not have a lot of expertise within the department in the research
side that is specific to wood materials. We have many associated ones, such as
the building science and structures, but not specific to that. Before I came
here, I was talking to one of our instructors who identified that as something
we could expand on.
There is not much else to add. You can ask us more about the specific things
you would like to hear from us.
The Chair: Thank you very much. The first question will be asked by
Senator Mercer: Thank you for being here this morning. To complete
your education information, the Technical University of Nova Scotia is now part
of the second most important university in Halifax, namely, Dalhousie. I wanted
to clarify that. We have now completed your education on that side.
Mr. Bessai, you said that wood is mentioned in historical context. It is a
great concern to us that wood is talked about in a historic context, because we
want to talk about it today and tomorrow. That leads to something Ms. McCabe
also mentioned, that there is no specific expertise in the use of wood in design
That leads to the question we have been wrestling with. Do we need to have
specific chairs in civil engineering and architecture on the use of timber in
non-residential construction sectors? We need to start to focus there. This is a
hole we have seen, not just at the University of Toronto but at other
educational institutions, as well. Nobody is talking about this.
Do we need to address this by establishing a chair? Where are these chairs
established? You will get different answers. The chair will tell you the
University of New Brunswick is the best place, but I will probably tell you
Dalhousie is. However, that is another subject. We all have our own favourites.
Is this something we should be looking at? Is this hole we have seen in the
educational system worth filling?
Mr. Bessai: First, let us address the issue of historic use of wood.
In order to learn about it and put it into today's context, it is important to
look at significant projects from the past where there was an exemplary use of a
given material. For example, a Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto, used wood
extensively. Studying here in Canada, you would want to start by looking closely
at Aalto for his use of materials, due to the regional climatic similarly
between the region he built in and our own.
There is a lot to be learned from in some cases fairly modest but appropriate
use of the material. In a historical context, we spend a lot of time studying in
historical context Frank Lloyd Wright, who was an expert in the use of number of
materials. He was very experimental in his day. He did these crazy masonry
constructions in his California house period. He was really pushing boundaries
with materials, and his use of wood was significant.
It is important to recognize where innovation has been made in the past. We
have that covered as far as our curriculum. I could probably speak for some of
the other faculties, as well, in terms of that.
Your main question has to do with establishing a more focused research group,
let us say, in a given institution.
We have a responsibility to give our architecture students a kind of
accredited professional training. I think Ms. McCabe would say the same thing
for engineering. That really is the focus: one of our mandates is to do that.
That does not buy us one particular building material over another, but it puts
students out into the world who are responsible and capable of ethical conduct
and who have the education. The building industries are incredibly interrelated
and complex. We give students a foundational understanding of these concepts so
that they can, through a rigorous interning process, finally become registered,
stand on their own and make a contribution. In a way, that is our main focus.
I would suggest that the schools that have opted to move toward
graduate-level education are, as our faculty is, very concerned with research
and are in a better position to start pursuing research and grants that can then
allow us to look at more specific techniques, technologies and applications.
I think it would be appropriate to have such a chair. I think it could seed
itself in a number of places. The conditions you would want would be, first,
access to the materials. I suppose any number of the main centres in Canada
would have that capacity. However, to make advances in this area, one needs to
start looking at relationships between the applied disciplines. Making
advancements in the use of wood and making this material more attractive and
amenable to builders and to practising architects and engineers in the field
will require that.
The structural properties and the performance properties of these composite
materials using wood will have to be improved. I suppose it might be a kind of
joint chair, such as an engineering and architecture chair, where you can start
doing the tolerance testing that Ms. McCabe mentioned. They produce failure of
materials in their lab. These are physical experiments — and increasingly
digital experiments — to test tolerances. We tend not to have those capacities
in architecture faculties. However, we do have high-tech cutting machines and
forming machines that allow us to experiment, mostly at a small scale. They have
a limited bed size, about the size of a four-by-eight sheet of plywood.
We could jointly make some innovative discoveries, given both an engineering
aspect and architectural one. This is starting to take shape at UBC, where they
have a tie-in to industry. A forestry research operation has sponsored some
engineering labs at UBC to do some of this work with wood. The faculty of
architecture there is trying to get involved. That would be something to
consider for further investigation.
I think our faculties at the University of Toronto are well poised to work
collaboratively in this regard, as we have mentioned. There are already studios
that take advantage of our combined resources.
Senator Mercer: I was interested in your discussion. You mentioned the
use of three-axis milling machines. One thing we have discovered as we have
toured facilities across the country is how sophisticated the industry is. We
were in a mill in Saint Leonard, New Brunswick. It was an Irving mill. I think I
counted at least 12 scanners, similar to CAT scanners one would find in a
hospital, which were identifying the lumber as it was being processed, so it is
processed in the proper way to the best ability. Once it is in the mill, no
hands touch it until it comes out the other end in the best economic way
First, is there someone in Canada working on developing those types of
machines to help the industry?
Second, we have seen at mills in Quebec and in other places the use of glued
laminated trusses and beams, and we have heard a great deal of discussion about
cross-laminated timber. Those are some new things happening, and they are the
future. We have to retool this industry. It is in trouble in this country and it
is the largest industry we have. It is bigger than the automobile sector. We
need to find way to retool it.
Do you see that architects and engineers are starting to pay attention to the
use of things like glued laminated trusses and cross-laminated wood for use in
We are using a lot of wood in residential construction and that will
hopefully continue, but we need to break out of that and provide other markets,
both internally and externally, for our industry.
Ms. McCabe: I like your thoughts about research and a series of chairs
who could work together from many different perspectives. For example, we have
the Pulp & Paper Centre at the University of Toronto. We have a large centre
doing research in the area of pulp and paper.
I am envisaging this collaboration between mechanical engineering, which
looks at different types of joinery equipment and technologies that may also
included some electrical engineering, and civil engineering from the side of the
material, structural capacity and characteristics of some of the new composite
materials that might come out of wood industry. Certainly, the application and
material understanding would come from architecture.
A single chair may not give you the impact you need. It may need a couple of
perspectives working closely together to pull together something exciting to
showcase to the commercial industry that there is material out there, a new
material in some respects, that has applications. It could provide that. I think
it would be a broader solution than a single chair.
Senator Eaton: Mr. Bessai, you talked about historical buildings. Are
Canadians stuck in a time warp in that we tend to look at buildings of the past,
such as European buildings of stone or stucco? Many buildings in Canada are
still a bit of pastiche. I am talking about general construction, not specialty
buildings. We seem to be stuck in the past, yet we have this incredible amount
of wood available, although it might not be available yet or we might not know
how to put it to best use. Why do we not make more use of wood? Why is this
something new in the 21st century? Why do we have to discuss with you
why we do not use more wood in our buildings?
Mr. Bessai: A theme seems to be running through this committee's
study: this notion that we might be kind of backward. To be clear, in every
country architecture schools are looking at the great buildings. Today's
faculties are focused on the 20th century forward. It is not backward and it
does not produce a kind of backward position or attitude.
Senator Eaton: I do not mean ignorant; I mean stuck in the past.
Mr. Bessai: I will try to frame this in a certain way. In the 1960s
and 1970s, Canada led the world in many respects in late-modern architecture. We
were doing significant, large-scale buildings and flexing our muscles, in a
sense. Sites like Expo 67 are a testament to that. We have not stood down from
that position, but there is a sense that the bold experimental period was
followed by a period of refinement.
I mentioned the examples of projects by Arthur Erickson, who was
characteristic of that period. Even in that period, to produce a significant
civic architecture in a northern climate, there was a need to move to some of
the stereotomic materials, like masonry and concrete, for large-scale projects.
Erickson used wood when he could, but they were smaller projects.
Senator Eaton: Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto is a wonderful building in
concrete. Did they not just have to retrofit it with wood to make it more
Are your students interested in working in wood? Is there a consciousness
among young people today that wood is a very green material for buildings?
Mr. Bessai: I would say, yes. We had a heroic period that required a
king of brutalist architecture, where the use of concrete became a kind of
touchstone for Canadian architecture. Today, we are in a period when leading
practitioners and academics are talking about the North in a different way.
Brigitte Shim, who is also on our faculty, is a proponent of a new regionalism
that is engaged in the use of wood.
The various academic practitioners in the institutions that cross over with
us are all using wood. Most of the examples I gave you are beautiful examples of
important civic buildings at different scales where wood is the feature
material. That is what I see. Before coming in here, I was thinking that the
most revered spaces and culturally significant buildings in Canadian cities are
being dressed in wood. Even the Ottawa airport has a wood theme for its public
The difficulty is the gap, which maybe has always been there, between the
academy and the every day. We have a joke around faculties of architecture that
only 1 per cent of buildings are actually designed by architects, let alone
architects of some reputation or capacity who might consider these issues. The
Art Gallery of Ontario is all about wood, but no one is using wood in shopping
malls. Certain building types are just not viable in wood. There is a middle
range of larger buildings where wood is not viable because it is not cheaper and
it does not outperform these other materials.
Perhaps we should focus the discussion there. If we could develop a long-span
wood structure that was fire resistant and comparable in price to open web steel
joists, then maybe people would use it to build a mall or a big box store. There
is a bottom line in most construction in this country. As far as the discourse
is concerned, we are using wood in all of our most significant architecture.
Architecture with a capital A is very involved in the use of wood at different
scales. In architecture as a building practice, there is a bottom line. We are
not using wood because steel trusses and decking are cheaper. The cost question
arises as well in residential construction, which I am sure you have studied. We
are seeing the use of steel studs for interior framing of multi-unit housing
It requires a proof of concept in order to use wood structurally on a large
scale in a public assembly space. My example of the use of wood in the lobbies
of hospitals is unconventional because it requires extra care to ensure fire
resistance in exiting, because it is combustible. There was the same issue at
the Art Gallery of Ontario, where wood was used as an integral structural
material. There is a value-added in using wood, but in reality it is a kind of
delicacy for warehouses and shopping malls.
Senator Eaton: Are you saying that we do not have the wood products we
Mr. Bessai: Let us migrate the discussion. The wood products that we
have are being used in places like the Richmond Olympic Oval. They use very
robust production and design techniques with our robotic milling capacity. No
one designing a run-of-the-mill building would be able to afford or have the
understanding of such technologies. We should start to use a more pragmatic kind
of wood in medium-scale or large-scale buildings so that we can develop and make
it a viable product. Pre-manufactured wood trusses are common for roofing
systems. No one sees those, but wood is the cheapest for that application and is
used regularly. My interest, as is your interest, is to not let the discussion
migrate away from quality and experience but rather to have that as central to
There might be some movement possible in the architecture and engineering
faculties about prefabrication and the preassembly of prefab building components
in a factory setting to be delivered to the site. There are great possibilities
for the use of engineered wood in that regard, but we are at the early stages of
thinking about that. We have the factories in Ontario, from what I understand,
where it would be possible to retool for such wood production. There are
automobile industry factory spaces for the production of wind turbines. We have
not reached a comparable level to the Japanese in producing prefabricated,
modular housing or building assemblies, although many people are theorizing.
There is a publication on prefabrications that is a reference in this regard.
We could begin to innovate in that area. The problem is the bottom-line cost
and the comparative efficacy of using some of these other durable construction
materials. We need to make some strides there.
Ms. McCabe: I was talking about the possibility of chairs. Great
research is taking place in nano-materials and many other things that may
provide, for example, a varnish that would expand, just as we have paint for
steel that will expand in case of fire and protect it so that it can stay
structurally stable long enough to evacuate people from a building. I can
imagine a clear varnish that would allow wood to do the same thing. You pinned
it when you said that the composite materials are not there yet, but focused
research on some of those issues would be very valuable to the industry.
Senator Mercer: I am now totally confused. You are now talking in
terms that I think we as a committee would have used when we started our study.
You are talking about the use of wood not being safe in public places because it
burns. We have heard just the opposite now for a number of months, that the use
of wood is safe in public places.
You talk about not being able to build larger buildings with wood, but we
have seen many examples of that. We keep returning to the oval. The oval is
bigger than any box store you can find in this country. It is bigger than any
Costco, Canadian Tire or Best Buy box store. Therefore, you have confused me.
You talked about not being able to use wood in larger places and about its not
being safe from fire. You skipped over the discussion of wood being better for
the environmental footprint of a building. That is huge, and I anticipated that
people in the academic community would spend a fair amount of time talking about
Mr. Bessai: First, I have not been party to the deliberations of the
committee to this point. I do not know what you have heard and seen. I did not
intend to drag the discussion backwards.
With regard to LEED, I did mention that points are given for the use of
renewable resources. Yes, there is that cost saving.
In our broader discussions about energy, going into the Copenhagen summit we
have to reorganize our thinking about the cost of things and look at the longer
term rather than the immediate costs. Per-square-foot construction costs are
what contractors, construction companies, architects and engineers are concerned
with. In industry, right now we have the capacity to make these incredible
contributions and to retool to use materials in a better way, and everyone
recognizes that over the long term a more sustainable solution is obviously a
better solution. However, in practice, those things are not getting into the
The skating oval is an expensive and culturally significant building, and in
all of our significant high-square-foot- cost buildings you see wood. We have
done that and we are good at it. The leading architects in this country are
preoccupied with that, but they are not doing all of the work. They are trying
to lead by example.
What comes up in the construction industry in this country is these other
nagging but persistent concerns to do with cost and the bottom line. Everyone
would want to use a more sustainable product and a low-carbon footprint if
possible, but if they cannot afford to build that way, they will use an
It is a conundrum, but it is not for lack of capacity and potential. We just
need to get better at producing these materials in a framework where there are
savings and obvious economic advantages as well as clear sustainability
Senator Plett: I agree with you entirely. I have spoken to many
contractors about why we are not using more wood. You have suggested it is
simply that for whatever reason people do not want to use it. We could use more
of it if we chose to, and you are suggesting cost, fire hazard and lack of
education about how safe wood is as reasons for not using it.
We heard some witnesses a month or so ago who said an arena built in
Abbotsford, British Columbia, cost almost $500,000 less to build with wood. A
contractor came from Quebec to Abbotsford to build that arena, and it cost
$500,000 less than it would have had they built it from steel and concrete.
Therefore, I am not sure I can entirely buy the idea that wood is more
expensive. An arena is somewhat similar to a box store; it is a big open
building. If an arena in Abbotsford $500,000 cheaper, bringing a contractor from
Quebec to build it, I am not sure I accept that it would not be as economical to
build a Costco or Superstore in Winnipeg out of wood.
Mr. Bessai: It is very exciting to hear about a project like that. It
is impressive and a great step.
Perhaps the technologies and materials are there. That is very exciting. If
that is the case and if word of a project like that starts to get out, we will
see more buildings using wood in that way.
You have probably had experts speak about building codes. The national and
provincial codes are organized in various ways. Performative codes are becoming
more prevalent. The National Building Code has a performative side and a
legislative side, which is suggestive of certain assemblies meeting the code.
The performative side requires proof that a given assembly that has not been
conventionally used serves the purposes of the code.
This is another arena where some changes may be happening, but these changes
need to filter through to industry. When these things become more commonplace,
people using conventional practices will see that the cost is coming down and
the code is leaning in the direction of these solutions, and change will
I realize that you have brought in various parties to represent themselves on
a number of these issues. However, one thing we struggle with and focus on in
academia is the most experimental and formally exciting. Those are some of the
terms by which we evaluate architecture. Maybe where we are kind of falling
short — and listening to some of the comments I am hearing today I think this
might be the case — is that we are focused on the more utopian, theoretically
driven and experimental strategies without doing as much of the hard work of
looking at the application of these things in the quotidian world. We are small
faculties. We tend to be rogue faculties in universities, and we are trying our
best to keep up with the international discourse that is exploding on many
different fronts. To settle things down and to look at these incremental changes
and look more seriously at some of the on-the-ground issues around a particular
material would probably be useful for us.
The Chair: Ms. McCabe, would you like to add anything?
Ms. McCabe: In the last few weeks, I have been talking to several of
our alumni who are in various structural engineering firms. I was talking to
them specifically about timber, just by chance, because we have camp we will be
expanding and I was looking to them for help in the design of this. It will be
timber structures. The expertise is there. The industry has expertise to do that
kind of design. I cannot explain to you why it is not used more. However, if the
expertise is there, then it is being used in various applications. If it had not
been used at all, then it would be lost quickly, say, within 20 years. From my
side, the expertise still exists in these firms.
Senator Poulin: Mr. Bessai, you forecast my question. I have always
perceived universities as being ahead of industry because of the research,
because of the time to reflect, because of the writings, and because of the
discourse with the new thinkers — that is, the students, the future of the
Based on the discussion we have been having, you have certainly fired up the
committee. What universities in the world, both in engineering and in
architecture, are doing the research that would support the goals of expanding
the forestry industry in Canada by increasing the use of wood in residential and
non-commercial and commercial buildings?
Mr. Bessai: Universities outside of Canada?
Senator Poulin: Yes.
Mr. Bessai: This is a productive discussion. We should continue to
talk about any shortcomings in the universities in Canada. However, from my own
knowledge, the most significant faculty that would probably have the capacity
and the discipline to conduct, and perhaps has conducted, the kind of more
focused exploration that you are looking for might be the ETH Zurich, the Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology Zurich, which is very reputable. I have no
experience with the faculty, but I know it by reputation. It is a technically
based program, from what I understand. It has a workshop model where they rally
around certain specific problems and try to troubleshoot those.
I feel like I am getting defensive here, which is maybe the intention. In our
own faculty, we are under the leadership of this new dean, Richard Sommer, and
we are looking to an educational model that takes into account. As an example,
we conducted this thing he called a cities workshop where we dropped everything
and focused on a particular set of urban problems in the city of Toronto over
one week with experts from different fields weighing in.
I will be returning to my faculty to suggest that we better get our act
together and do a focused week of research on the use of wood in construction
because there is an educated Senate out there that is wondering what the heck we
are doing in the faculty.
The Chair: Yes, and we will continue.
Senator Poulin: I did not ask you about Canadian universities because
I know you would answer that Toronto is Number 1.
Mr. Bessai: No, no. You have the right panel; we are both Albertans.
Senator Poulin: Ms. McCabe, what about engineering? Where would you
see that type of research being done for the increase of wood in residential and
Ms. McCabe: ETH Zurich is a well-respected institution. I am not
familiar with the material side of the research specific to other universities
around the world, so I cannot really answer that for you. Hopefully, Canadian
universities can be the ones that promote it.
Senator Poulin: Would you be able to find us the answer?
Ms. McCabe: Yes, I could.
Senator Poulin: That would be appreciated, Mr. Chair, if Ms. McCabe
could come back with the answer for us.
The Chair: Yes. Thank you.
Senator Mahovlich: I do not think that Université Laval was mentioned.
I think Laval is ahead of all the universities. We had the opportunity to visit
Laval. They work with UBC. They have the technology, the equipment, to test all
these timbers. They are working with lamination and all kinds of things. Is
Université Laval on your map at all?
Mr. Bessai: I am sorry; it was an oversight. I was trying to include
all faculties that are producing our architects in Canada. I missed Laval; I
knew they had a faculty.
It is exciting to hear that they have the capacity to engage in these issues.
For my own education, I will look into what they are doing there.
Senator Mahovlich: I think you should, and you should send your
students up there. It is with worthwhile to visit Université Laval and to see
their buildings. They have a soccer stadium that is very much like the Richmond
building. For the Richmond Olympic Oval, the builders used timber that was
almost unusable because of the pine beetle. It is an attractive building.
You are right that there is something about cost with this timber. The
architect who worked on the airport here in Ottawa wanted to put a ceiling up
there in wood, but they lost out on the cost side. It would have been beautiful
for visitors to come into the Ottawa airport and see a ceiling made out of wood.
Ms. McCabe: Our structures group has collaborative links with Laval.
We do various things with the university, in particular with the structures
group. I do not know that they extend the wood application, but certainly we
have the equipment as well that would complement that.
Senator Mahovlich: Good. I visited Frank Gehry's studio in Los Angeles
a number of times. The thing that stood out in my mind was his furniture. It was
all made out of laminated woods. All his furniture was like plywood. He is very
popular. He does a lot of work with wood and I think he likes wood. Of course,
he is a Canadian, and he spent time in Timmins. That might have affected his
What percentage of the Art Gallery of Ontario is made of wood?
Mr. Bessai: To be clear, the Art Gallery of Ontario is a building
renovation. Most of the mass of the building is existing structure. It involved
a set of fit-outs in the interior and a couple of new elements, as well as the
big box that is on top. Of the new construction, the front piece is almost all
wood. Of the structure, about 15 per cent or maybe 25 per cent of the new
construction is structural wood.
Senator Mahovlich: Would that be the stairs?
Mr. Bessai: The stairs probably have a steel frame on the inside, but
I will get to that. Wood is being used as a cladding material, as a finishing
material and as a material to produce the interior effect from walls, ceilings,
floors and a sort of secondary interior system on the glazing. Wood is
predominant. I would say it is being used as 80 per cent of the finishing
material in the building.
There are a couple of clues to Frank Ghery. I have thought a lot about his
work and participated in his process as a person working in the firm. He is
really a significant architect, and, like Frank Lloyd Wright, to who he is often
compared, his late career is under way. I would suggest the Art Gallery of
Ontario is a kind of coming-out project for his late work. There is this
incredible return to wood as an experimental material.
We think of it that way. Even in the academy, we do not always see wood being
used in as inventive a way as he has. It is a good sign. Again, he is within
that narrow bandwidth of architects because he is world-famous; he would be the
equivalent of a rock star if we were all musicians.
I do not think there is a problem at the high end with the use of wood, and
that is a perfect example. The issue lies in the middle ground where the kinds
of products that can be proven to have cost-effectiveness and performative
equivalents and be sustainable are less on the radar for those of us trying to
move forward in this.
Senator Mahovlich: As far as historical value in wood and to have
students look at what has been done with wood, would you recommend that they
take a visit to the Chateau Montebello? Royalty has stayed there, besides
Mr. Bessai: Which is that?
Senator Mercer: You are royalty in your own right.
Mr. Bessai: You are. I will get your autograph after this. I will get
Senator Mahovlich: The Chateau Montebello is a wood frame and it has
been there for so many years. It has been successful and attractive. I like it.
Mr. Bessai: To be clear, I may have misinterpreted what you were
talking about as far as historic buildings.
Senator Eaton: No, you did not. Canadians' have a perception of why we
do not move forward, instead of always looking at what we have done in the past.
The Art Gallery of Ontario is a wonderful example of that new work, as is the
new Roman gallery, which is so extraordinary. Why is more of that not done?
Mr. Bessai: There was an imperative around using wood in early
Canadian architecture because it was readily available to be hewn from the
forests and put in as posts and beams in buildings. It is true that there was
also a phase where wood was one of the materials being used among many others.
There was an excitement over poured-in-place concrete over a long period in the
20th Century. We have also benefited from great advances in the uses of steel in
large buildings. Downtown Toronto has one of the finest examples — the TD Centre
— of Mies van der Rohe's work.
Regardless, the new uses of wood you have been discovering are out there and
are in fact new. We need to pay more attention to this. However, there is also a
comfort level with industry and the construction industry that we are not always
in direct contact with. We put our architecture students out there, and they try
to get jobs in firms.
Historically, we have a problem in faculties of architecture of not always
having the most direct contact with industry and with practising architects.
Also, the symbiosis that you might imagine, which we believe is happening
somewhat within the university across faculties, is not really quite there. It
is not just the University of Toronto, but among the other faculties as well,
with perhaps the exception of Laval.
We need to work on that to get the message out there. We need to educate
ourselves, but then also get that message out there and connect back to the
practising architects who are out there making these buildings.
Senator Eaton: You said "comfort level.'' Would it help if the federal
government made more of the environmental friendliness of wood and decided that,
as of 2015, all federal buildings had to have 10 per cent, 15 per cent or 20 per
cent wood? Perhaps you use concrete and steel but you have to use wood
panelling, cladding or staircases. Would that drive faculties across the country
to say, "This is coming down the pike. We have to get on side. We have to
concentrate more on this''?
Ms. McCabe: I think that would certainly have a huge impact. We are
always being pulled in different directions. We have been approached by various
industries who say, "Why do you not have more of this in your program?'' I tried
to give you a brief overview of the program. It is very full. We do our best to
provide the balance that we can.
However, a mandate like that would get everyone's attention. It is not just
the educational system; it is the practice as a whole. If the practice is there,
we will definitely modify the way we teach within the curricula, because we are
trying to ensure our engineers have the skill set to meet today's demand and the
demand of the future.
We also have had perceptions over the past 20 years or so that the forestry
industry was maybe not the greenest, that the practices were not very well
perceived by the general public. That may have led to some of the downturn of
the use of some of that material. What you mentioned would be a very good
strategy to highlight to the general public and the professions that wood is a
very green product that is being produced in a responsible, sustainable way,
particularly for Canada. Our industry is probably one of the largest in the
world for that particular material.
I agree that that kind of an initiative by the federal government would go a
long way to bringing to everyone's attention that this material is back. It is
back and it will be used in many ways. That is a fine idea.
Senator Rivard: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Of course, since I am one of the
last to speak, most of my questions have already been asked and answered.
I want to thank Senator Mahovlich for pointing out that we saw the Kruger
pavilion in Quebec City, which is built of wood. The building is an extension of
the Forestry Faculty and is made of 90 per cent wood, except for the floors and
a partition wall to comply with the law.
You talked about the New Richmond project, saying that it cost more than
conventional materials would have. I hope that, one day, the people in Richmond
will make public the building's maintenance and heating costs versus what the
costs would have been if traditional materials had been used.
At Laval University, the Kruger pavilion has been in operation for a few
years, and they have been able to determine that the heating costs were 30 per
cent lower than those of a conventional building. Whenever a project like this
is undertaken, an engineer will face a situation where the costs are comparable.
We should move in that direction because the operating costs are equally
In the past few months, our committee has heard from a number of witnesses
who said that it was unfortunate that provincial building codes permitted
commercial building heights only up to six storeys; their thinking was that it
would be possible to go up to nine storeys without a problem.
What could be done about that? Who should be the one to exert pressure on
that front? Governments? Architects? Engineers? Academics?
In Quebec City, we visited two buildings made of wood, one of which was under
construction, and the architects told us they really like using wood but that
there is currently not enough skilled labour to staff several non-residential
wood construction sites.
Ms. McCabe: One of the great problems when doing any kind of building
is that the capital budget for the design and construction is often separated
from the operations and maintenance, which are often different departments. For
example, we do not deal with the life-cycle cost of heating a building. In road
construction, they decide on the material to be used based on the life-cycle
cost of the road. They factor in more than just the cost of constructing the
road. One federal initiative might be to look at funding for total building cost
that would include the life-cycle energy costs.
With respect to building height and building codes, I do not think anyone
would have malicious intentions in limiting the height of a building based on
material used. If it can be shown that a building constructed of wood can have a
greater height than six stories, it could be incorporated into the building code
if brought forward to building code committees. It is possible.
Regarding the skills of construction workers, Canada has an amazing
construction industry with an immense skill set. As I mentioned, if designs are
not created in a long time using a particular material, we lose that specific
design expertise. The same might be said of the building trades. Going back to
the trades, it is necessary to provide not only the education but also the
opportunity to use the material. There is a cascading effect. A design is done
with particular materials in mind, knowing that the skill set is out there to
actually build it. Many dimensions come together to ensure that can happen, from
the design to the actual trades for installation.
The Chair: Mr. Bessai, do you have a comment on the question?
Mr. Bessai: I made a couple of notes because it was a multi-faceted
question. Some of Ms. McCabe's comments aptly addressed a few of those facets.
With regard to changes to provincial buildings codes, I am not sure where
pressure would best be placed. My understanding of how codes influence people's
bottom line is that, as much as possible, people will follow the code's minimum
requirements. If the building codes were adjusted to give preference to these
kinds of construction techniques that are increasingly proven to be effective,
it would be an incredible step forward that would result in changes. If the
federal government were to take the initiative, as was suggested, to make it
imperative that 20 per cent of finishing structures of federal government
building contracts had to be in wood, that would be exemplary and would have a
huge impact. In that way, the government could take the lead, which would be
advantageous in every respect.
With the Olympic Games around the corner, we will continue to hear a lot
about the Richmond Olympic Oval because it is a kind of red-button building. It
is on the cover of Canadian Architect this month. As part of the buildup
to the games, it is the one project that is of merit in all these respects, in
particular in the area your committee is studying. For our technical person at
the University of Toronto, Ted Kesik, who is our advanced PhD building science
person, it is always about building performance. However, increasingly, he would
bring some of these concerns about materials and expected life cycle of a
project into his thinking as well. You are hearing about the Richmond Olympic
Oval because it is an exemplary building, and it will have a big impact because
everyone will see it. It is a positive force.
Senator Finley: Listening to Mr. Bessai wax lyrical about some of
these buildings has made me think they are some kind of mad congregation of art,
science and economics. I guess there is only one Pablo Picasso in five billion
I would like to go back to universities and research. How much of a role does
industry play in financing universities in either the practical applications or
the research applications? In particular, how much does the timber industry,
which we know generates billions of dollars per year, fund universities? You
could estimate specifically for the University of Toronto or for Canadian
Ms. McCabe: I cannot provide you with a figure, but it is a very small
portion. Certain industries provide a little more support than others. I would
be familiar with the ones that support our research, which generally focuses on
structural design, not necessarily material. We have very strong support from
the cement and concrete industry. At the University of Toronto, we have the Pulp
& Paper Centre, a strong group that is well-supported by the timber industry. I
do not know what the percentage is, but they come close to providing full
support of the one research centre, which supports several researchers.
That support impacts the way the research is done. Funding by industry is a
way of focusing research on a particular area important to that industry.
Canadian industry is not as supportive of overall research in material and civil
engineering aspects. That is probably true in other areas of engineering as
well. Because we are focused on application, we are able to interest specific
areas of industry. It all depends on the industry.
Senator Finley: If, for example, we were to look at funding or tax
considerations that would benefit the industry to promote investment at the
university level for the development of wood as a building component, would it
Ms. McCabe: Absolutely.
Senator Finley: Would it be better if any federal funding went
directly to the university?
Ms. McCabe: I do not think a single strategy will solve such a large
issue. You as a committee are looking at this from so many different
perspectives, and any strategy to move that industry into the forefront of our
building materials and the direction of building in Canada and elsewhere will
need a multi-faceted solution. Money to the universities for research programs,
ensuring that it is part of the urban environment and not perceived as a rural
problem, and scholarships to encourage students and excite them about the
possibilities of learning to use different materials would all be useful. The
scholarships and research also help public perceptions. If research is being
done on it, that bring it to the fore. We are battling things like
bio-materials, which tend to have a lot of focus. Research money and
scholarships would help bring the wood products and applications to the
forefront of the public's mind.
Senator Finley: You talked about five material components: timber,
cement, concrete, steel, masonry and glass. Is work being done on other
materials in building and architecture? I think particularly of composite
materials, these new, very light and strong materials. Is there a possibility
that they could become a direct future competitor for wood?
Ms. McCabe: A future competitor, but perhaps also an opportunity,
because those composite materials could contain wood or wood product that might
help with thermal capacity or use other wood waste products. There are many
opportunities. I would not say it is necessarily competition, although that
might be the case. There are so many possibilities. I think there is opportunity
for the industry in that way.
Senator Mahovlich: We were told that wood is much healthier inside
buildings than concrete and other materials. Are you aware of that?
Ms. McCabe: No. If you compared wood flooring to carpet flooring, you
would quite easily make a strong case for that. With respect to the structure, I
am unaware of other things. There are some problems with wood as well. If it
gets wet, there are potential mildew problems. There may be other aspects of it
that are quite beneficial.
Senator Fairbairn: This has been a very interesting conversation. What
you do is very exciting.
When you discovered that I am from Lethbridge, Alberta, you asked whether I
know Arthur Erickson, who created an outstanding building on the side of our
river, in front of the mountains, for the University of Lethbridge. It is so
outstanding that it ended up in Time magazine, which was the most
exciting thing to happen in Lethbridge for quite a long time.
I have wondered many times over the years whether I should have been an
architect rather than a journalist.
You both teach young people this very important and exciting career that you
have chosen for yourselves. How many women are now choosing that career path?
Ms. McCabe: In civil engineering, on average 25 per cent of the
enrolment is young women. They do exceptionally well and tend to be at the top
of the class and tend to look toward leadership roles. They are interested in
more than just the structure. They are interested in the impact of their
structures on the environment. Some of our students have put together something
they call "The Promise.'' Engineering students sign this at the end of the year
to say that they promise to look after future generations in the things they do
today. Civil engineering and architectural projects quite often last for
hundreds of years. They want to construct things that their own grandchildren
will be proud of. The women are doing very well.
Mr. Bessai: We have many women coming into architecture schools,
probably more than 50 per cent of the enrolment, but not all of them become
registered architects. We are not sure why that is. There are certainly great
interest in and big contribution to the schools by women. We need to work on
getting them to carry through and register as architects.
The Chair: For the benefit of our witnesses, in 2009 the federal
government injected over $40 million over two years with Natural Resources
Canada for the Canada Wood Export Program, the Value to Wood Program and the
Wood First Program. I wanted to share that with you. Those are initiatives on
wood utilization in non-residential construction.
I wish to thank our witnesses for sharing their information with us. We will
share the information you have provided with the Canadian Wood Council.
Ms. McCabe, you mentioned a lack of expertise at the graduate level and that
we must have all stakeholders at the table when we look at the questions that
were directed to you by Senator Finley.