Toronto is a city of brick, concrete, steel and glass. There is a good chance every building you pass presents a mixture of these materials, resulting in a rather uniform appearance to our urban fabric. But what if you added timber back into the mix of traditional materials?

One of the most unique projects currently under construction in the city is the Humber College Cultural Hub, a multi-phase project in South Etobicoke at Humber College's Lakeshore Campus, a new building for the Faculty of Media and Creative Arts. Once completed in May 2024, Phase 1 of the complex will house amenities such as a 150-seat performance hall, gymnasium, classrooms, faculty offices, cafeteria, ensemble rooms, and a dining hall. The structure will also be topped with five storeys of a 320-bed student residence constructed in mass timber, an increasingly popular building material.

Humber College Lakeshore Campus's new Cultural Hub under construction, image courtesy of Entuitive

“Over the last few years timber has become more desirable as an alternative to traditional steel and concrete because of its many advantages,” says Sean Lou-Hing, Associate with Entuitive, one of Canada’s most respected construction engineering companies who is the structural engineer of record for the Humber Cultural Hub project, responsible for the design and contract administration for the entire structure. “Mass timber is a natural, renewable and sustainable material with a light carbon footprint. It is also a lightweight material, which makes transportation and on-site handling much easier… and aesthetically, exposed timber appeals to designers and clients more so than conventional materials.”

The Humber Cultural Hub project is a hybrid structure which also features a concrete podium and structural steel transfer truss system, while representing the largest mass timber structure Entuitive has designed to date. Driven by Humber College’s desire for a more collaborative design process, an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) approach was utilized between Entuitive, architect Diamond Schmitt, general contractor EllisDon, and thirteen trade partners including Kalesnikoff, who are the mass timber fabricators.

The building is constructed with steel, concrete, and timber components, image courtesy of Entuitive

During the planning process, Entuitive quickly evaluated that mass timber would be the best approach from a cost, scheduling and design viewpoint. Mass timber would also meet Humber’s sustainability goals including LEED Platinum certification and net-zero carbon.

“During the planning process we studied several different framing schemes and materials, including cast-in-place concrete, structural steel and mass timber,” says Lou-Hing. “In the end, mass timber was evaluated as the most appropriate material for the structure based upon the team’s defined criteria, while also providing the potential “wow” factor for our client, Humber College, and for students, faculty, and prospective students.”

Mass timber became a key priority, especially in the upper portion of the structure, the student residence, in keeping the loads light. The upper portion requires a certain structural grid, whereas the lower portion housing the academic spaces requires a wider grid with large, column-free spaces.

Timber was selected as the material to frame the upper building, housing student residences, image courtesy of Entuitive

“We spent a lot of time optimizing the mass timber design to reduce the amount of wood volume and thus the cost of the structure,” says Tanya Luthi, Vice-President, Structures with Entuitive. “Because the structure requires for safety reasons a two-hour fire-resistance rating, any timber exposed to view is typically oversized to provide the sacrificial char layer to achieve that two-hour fire resistance rating.”

One of the many challenges in building the Humber Cultural Hub was Humber’s requirement that its professional and educational state-of-the-art studio, considered a world-class facility, be maintained and operational during construction.

“This required careful sequencing with Humber,” says Lou-Hing. “The technical solution was to use heavy five-metre-deep steel transfer trusses, which were fabricated off-site and lifted into place over a short downtime period. By scheduling erection time slots off-hours, the recording studio remained accessible and operational.”

Entuitive’s creative thinking also came into play given the existing buildings, construction schedule, and design resulted in many site constraints on the project.

The site of the building presented challenges with phasing and existing buildings, image courtesy of Entuitive

“With the new building being sandwiched between an existing, irregularly shaped building to the west, and an easement line to the east, creative thinking was needed for the development of the massing of the building,” says Lou-Hing. “This resulted in a very interesting form, with lots of transfers. Another constraint was keeping the studio operational while constructing five storeys of building above it. However, the land adjacent to the studio and the space overtop of it was under-utilized and was identified as a key development space. Building around the studio was relatively simple, but building overtop required some very creative thinking. In collaboration with our partners, we quickly focused on structural steel as the most efficient approach.”

Be it a log cabin in the woods or a state-of-the-art facility in the city, there is something inherently welcoming, warm and comforting about the appearance of wood, and the Humber Cultural Hub is yet another example of how Entuitive brings industry-leading creativity and innovative solutions to construction engineering in creating world-class design.

Timber framing of the upper floors shows natural warm appearance of the material, image courtesy of Entuitive

UrbanToronto will continue to follow progress on this development, but in the meantime, you can learn more about it from our Database file, linked below. If you'd like, you can join in on the conversation in the associated Project Forum thread or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.

Related Companies:  Aercoustics Engineering Ltd, Arcadis, Bousfields, EllisDon, Entuitive, Janet Rosenberg & Studio, Trillium Architectural Products, Unilux HVAC Industries Inc.