By Michael Lewis
Special to Ontario Construction Report
Architecture and engineering students from across Canada (and southern California) gained hands-on structural design and construction experience over a 72-hour competition that culminated with an awards ceremony Sunday at Toronto Metropolitan University.
With limited amounts of board feet, and time, and under the mentorship of union and industry partners 16 teams rose to the challenge of building life-size wooden pavilions that were then judged by a panel of experts – and by the public in online voting ongoing until Sept 25.
Structures were evaluated for features including weight bearing capacity, accessibility, aesthetics and, in keeping with this year’s managing food insecurity theme, potential crop yield.
The approximately 90 students from eight universities including McGill and the University of California, Berkeley took part in the eighth-annual TimberFever Design-Build Competition that was inspired by an annual commercial wood construction student challenge in Quebec and was the brainchild of David Moses, principal of Moses Structural Engineers Inc. in Toronto.
“Since the beginning, we’ve felt a real sense of community around TimberFever, where everyone comes together to collaborate, teach and inspire.” said Moses. He said the competition aims to foster the kind of cross-disciplinary collaboration needed for the building challenges presented by climate change and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as the City of Toronto’s net zero by 2040 pledge.
It is also a way of promoting the versatility, adaptability and climate friendly attributes of wood in commercial and residential construction, he added, with the natural material becoming a more viable alternative to steel and concrete as technology advances and building and fire codes evolve.
Student organizers said practicing architects and engineers as well as guest speakers provided guidance, assistance and judging for each team’s pavilion allowing participants to grow their network and hone their professional communication skills over what they called the friendly but intense competition.
“Construction is a huge industry in our province, but it’s a small world and these young men and women; architects, engineers and apprentices working together on TimberFever will see each other on multiple projects throughout their working lives and know that they first worked together on a small project at TimberFever,” said Mike Yorke, director of public affairs and innovation at the Carpenters District Council of Ontario.
“Our role via our College of Carpenters instructors and union staff is to mentor on jobsite and tools safety. Our union apprentices are also engaged in assisting on the various builds,” he said.
“No matter where they end up, this is a great start on collaboration and teamwork required in the construction industry.”
“Student competitions including TimberFever offer great opportunities for innovation and experiential learning,” added Medhat Shehata, professor of civil engineering and associate dean at TMU.
Sean Blake, business representative at Carpenters’ Local 27 in Toronto, said the union has provided teams of administrators and volunteers to assist students with practical worksite guidance every year since the competition was launched in 2015.
“We are giving them first-hand onsite knowledge of how these things go together and pointing out the design flaws that we have come across and the remedies in real time.”
Blake said the competition helps remove the silos that can separate building trades, suggesting that the the best course is “for us all to work together.
“At the end of the day we are all responsible for bringing a good product to market.”
The competition got underway when the students met each other at a social gathering on Thursday and were assigned to teams of five to six members each. On Friday they were informed of this year’s theme and of the crop their sustainable structure would be intended to accommodate, said Alex Winslow, a student at TMU and the competition’s Architectural Chair.
Since vegetables such as corn, carrots, green onions and radish all have different growing requirements, she said students had to quickly develop their agricultural expertise with structures designed, for example to include slats to allow sunlight to reach growing corn stalks, while also providing wheelchair access and for use by people of all body types.