Cranes punctuate the skylines of major Canadian cities as a vertical growth spurt continues across many parts of the country. In the Greater Toronto Area, where the vast majority of high-rise structures use the reinforced concrete method, firms specializing in concrete construction have become major players in the regional building industry. We recently had the chance to speak with Mark Tisdall, President of ULMA Construction Canada, who specialize in formwork, climbing, shoring, and scaffolding for cast-in-place concrete projects, about the growth and changes in the industry. A global firm, ULMA has operated for over 50 years, with over 2,100 employees spread across more than 50 countries, with a presence in Canada since 2009.

ULMA formwork visible on the rising Wesley Tower at Daniels City Centre, image by Forum contributor Jasonzed

UT: What are some of the most challenging projects ULMA has worked on worldwide?

Mark Tisdall: It is not a secret that each construction project has its own set of challenges, some greater than others. Our local teams, our product range, our engineering capabilities combined with our global experience positions us to be able to overcome these unique challenges on a job by job basis. Projects in the infrastructure and civil works field require a great deal of engineering due to the characteristics of the environment, the geometry of the structures, structural requirements, remote location, and construction schedule. Some examples include the New Ross Bypass in Ireland, the longest extradosed bridge in the world; the Innovation Arc in Brazil, with massive pylons of over 100 meters and curved geometries; and the Cebu Bridge in the Philippines, with pylons of over 150 m high and portal frames with lintels of 45 m long. Another notable project ULMA worked on is the 52-storey office tower at 10 Hudson Yards in New York City.

With a history spanning almost six decades, much has changed in the business. How does a job site of today differ from what was being built at the time of the company’s inception in 1961?

Certainly, many aspects of the 'job site environment' have changed in 60 years. Digitization, technology, and tools like BIM Modelling have certainly found their places in construction offices and on construction sites and will only become more prevalent as young tradespeople enter the workforce. But just as important as adapting to these new and evolving tools, is the understanding of how many aspects of construction remain unchanged. Forming Contractors generally operate in a dynamic, fast paced environment that requires a level of supplier involvement that goes beyond delivering goods. Creating a true partnership that is focused on the safe and timely execution of a project, until completion, must remain the ultimate priority. It’s important that we use modern tools to aid this effort, not replace it.

10 Hudson Yards under construction in New York City, 2015, image by Edward Skira

ULMA has been involved in significant projects across Toronto, including notable builds such as the Residences of the RCMI, the Four Seasons, Aura at College Park, and MaRS Centre. Are there any ongoing Greater Toronto Area projects ULMA is working on that our readers would be familiar with?

ULMA is currently working on projects including the Wesley Tower at Daniels City CentreAuberge on the Park160 Front West357 King West, and Riverview Condos in Uptown Markham.

ULMA formwork visible on Aura at College Park, April, 2013, image by Marc Mitanis

With several Canadian projects in the books and more under construction, how have Canadian winters impacted construction timelines, specifically forming temperature-sensitive concrete in sub-zero conditions?

Extreme cold weather in general translates to lower productivity and therefore increased costs. The introduction of artificial heat to offset this and aid in the curing of concrete means we need to be aware of any plastic or rubber components used in our formwork solutions. For this reason, we have “Canadianized” some parts and manufactured from aluminum instead of plastic like we do in warmer climates around the world. As we know the cold does not stop construction in Toronto, in fact we are seeing improved methods to cope with environmental factors like temperature and wind. The use of protective climbing screens, like ULMA’s HWS (Hydraulic Wind Screen) are growing in popularity in the GTA.

ULMA formwork visible on the rising Wesley Tower at Daniels City Centre, November, 2019, image by Forum contributor Jasonzed

With concrete makers developing sustainable technologies such as carbon-cure concrete, how are formwork suppliers like ULMA catering to the growing demand for sustainable building products?

Environmental responsibility is something we all need to be aware of. As a formwork supplier, our environmental contribution focuses on the reusability of our products. The use of true modular solutions like ULMA’s wall form system, ORMA, and ULMA’s slab form system, CC4, are fully reusable systems that eliminate not only the need for plywood, dimensional lumber and screws/nails but the waste generated at the site level from the disposal of these items after use.

Technological advancements are making construction methods safer and faster. What are some of the more advanced engineering technologies used in the field?

ULMA offers a wide range of climbing formwork solutions, one being ATR, and ATR-SC which is a formwork support structure for the construction of walls and other vertical structures, like stair and elevator cores, without crane assistance; instead they are driven by hydraulics. The climbing process consists of the successive elevation of the mast and the climbing bracket-formwork set along the wall surface.

Aside from advances implemented in the field, what kinds of technology are aiding the process of construction planning, and how are they implemented?

Our Building Information Modeling (BIM) database or “ULMA Studio” is an add-in for Revit® Autodesk®, where anyone can use it to apply ULMA products in their projects. As for its implementation, any professionals in construction, architecture, or engineering, as well as teachers and students can complete a form on our website and download ULMA Studio for free. ULMA Studio users can design virtual models and generate material lists, plans, 3D images, animations, or information flows that can be integrated with construction project planning and management tools.  Given that one of the main objectives of BIM software is to combine all project information in a single location, ULMA Studio includes all relevant information about each piece, from the reference number to name and weight. The user will be able to generate detailed material lists for the project underway, either for specific views or the entire project.

Additional information and images can be found in our Database files for the project's mentioned, all linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Check out the associated Forum threads, or leave a comment below.

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