Ontario Construction News staff writer
The University of Toronto has started building a new 14-storey mass timber building that it says will set a precedent for sustainable design.
Once complete, the tower is expected to be the tallest academic timber structure in Canada and one of the tallest mass timber and steel hybrid buildings in North America.
Designed by award-winning Canadian firms Patkau Architects and MJMA Architecture & Design with consulting from Blackwell Structural Engineers and Smith+Andersen, the Academic Wood Tower’s unique and sustainable structure has already won a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence.
The same team worked on U of T’s Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, which included the tower’s foundation and basement as part of its construction. Now, with the first deliveries of mass-timber components to the site, construction of the Academic Wood Tower is proceeding under the management of industry leader Pomerleau. The university anticipates completing the building in 2026.
The building is expected to serve as a case study for designers and engineers who can analyze this milestone achievement and potentially apply the tower’s best practices to their own projects.
“U of T’s Academic Wood Tower proves that we can reduce emissions, responsibly construct new buildings and contribute to the vibrant architectural fabric of a dense city like Toronto,” said Sandra Hanington, vice-chair of the university’s Governing Council.
Mass timber offers a wealth of structural advantages, including a high degree of fire safety and a low carbon footprint. Wood naturally absorbs carbon, taking it out of the atmosphere and reducing greenhouse gases. It is also one of the only major building materials that is a renewable resource.
Many of the tower’s components can be manufactured prior to their arrival, which means that they can be assembled easily and efficiently once on site, minimizing the level of construction disruption in this busy area of the city.
“This inspiring piece of architecture will provide our students, faculty and staff with state-of-the-art spaces for research, learning and community engagement,” said Meric Gertler, president of the university. “It will stand as a testament to U of T’s global leadership in sustainability, as well as our commitment to city-building.
“It will also showcase Canada’s leadership in wood construction technologies and the forest products industry. We are very grateful to our donors and to all those helping us to realize this incredibly exciting vision.”
Mass timber products require less energy to produce and store carbon dioxide. By choosing mass timber, construction projects are reducing pollution and energy waste while contributing to a growing area of climate action. Mass timber products sustainably contribute to the future of low-carbon construction and the development Canada’s bioeconomy in a manner that is consistent with the forest carbon cycle.
Located near Devonshire Place and Bloor Street on the St. George campus, the tower will provide spaces for the Rotman School of Management, the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy in the Faculty of Arts and Scienceand the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.