“Close your eyes and swing for the fences”

Honorary degree recipient Michael Green in front of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre he designed

The annual Convocation ceremonies are always the highlights of the UNBC calendar. For hundreds of students every year – this year, more than 800 – Convocation is a time to celebrate accomplishments and transitions.  It’s that “transitions” part that serves as a theme of the day, and always lives in the inspirational speech that is delivered to the grad class by honorary degree recipients.

The honorary degree recipients for 2014 were ethnobotanist Nancy Turner and architect Michael Green. Both are exceptional individuals and both gave “words to live by” to the grads: Turner recounted her decades of experiences with BC First Nations and their traditional uses of plants; Green described a personal mantra to take risks and aim to change the world, which started when he broke his back in a climbing accident and barely survived.

The entrance foyer of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre

Green used a baseball metaphor – “keep your eye on the ball” – as the foundation for his speech. But he described that phrase as conventional and too safe, and chose instead to give it a twist. “Close your eyes and swing for the fences,” he told the Class of 2014. “You’ll miss a lot, but when you connect, you’ll feel like you’ve changed the world.”

Green should know. He has made a career out of turning architectural convention on its head. In a profession dominated by people who use concrete, steel, and glass, Green would appear to have made it his life mission to make wood the building material of choice. And not just for houses; for skyscrapers.

Laminated Veneer Lumber is used in the window frames

His Wood Innovation and Design Centre in downtown Prince George is the start. The 30m building is already being touted as the world’s tallest modern wood building, but Green believes it will be prototype for wood buildings that are 20, 30, or even 40 stories tall.

New technologies and new ideas can make it happen. These photos of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre show some of its interesting

The ceiling/floor structure for each floor uses staggered CLT panels

and unique features. From the top, there’s a view from the mezzanine of the entrance foyer. The beams covered with protective plastic are glulam and the floor of the mezzanine as well as the ceiling and walls is cross-laminated timber (CLT), a product made in BC by Structurlam. The next photo shows Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) which is used in the staircase leading from the ground level to the mezzanine as well as in the window

Pipes that connect the Wood Innovation and Design Centre to the City’s bioenergy system

frames (as shown here) throughout the building. Finally, there’s a nice photo from the top storey of the building that shows the ceiling structure of alternating CLT panels. This contributes to the building’s strength while also providing space for electrical and telecommunications cables.

On the outside, the white plastic that has covered the building for a few months has finally been removed, once again providing a good view of the building both from the street and the webcams that have been capturing the progress since the first beam was installed. And now that the structure is complete, pipes are being installed that will connect the Wood Innovation and Design Centre to Prince George’s district energy system. This system, which originates at the Lakeland Mill, brings hot water to a number of buildings throughout the downtown core. The outside of the building also features wooden boards that have been slightly burned, releasing the wood’s natural preservative. Click here for a video about how it’s done.

When it’s completed the Wood Innovation and Design Centre will house proposed new master’s degree programming in engineering that will focus on wood design and the use of wood in large structures. It’s a new area for UNBC, and the program’s first professor was just recently appointed.

All in all, with so many developments on site recently, the presentation of an honorary degree to Michael Green came at a perfect time. And he hit the nail on the head with his message to the grads. Much is said these days of skills and technical expertise and certainly, the Class of 2014 is leaving UNBC with abilities to excel in their chosen careers or professions. But Green’s story – and his experience with the Wood Innovation and Design Centre – proves that passion, creativity, and imagination still count for a lot.

Rob

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About Rob van Adrichem

Rob van Adrichem is a UNBC grad and the University's Vice-President for External Relations. He was born and raised in Prince George and has been an employee of UNBC since 1992. He was appointed by former Premier Gordon Campbell to a provincial council on climate action and has been a champion of UNBC's efforts to be a model for sustainability. He is married with two young children.