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Students catch TimberFever’s hands-on experience

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by Don Procter

Eight teams of architectural science and civil engineering students at Ryerson University raced against time and each other in a reality TV-like fashion to complete six-by-eight-foot wood shelters at TimberFever, a design-build contest presented by Moses Structural Engineers Inc.
Students catch TimberFever’s hands-on experience

Aimed in part at promoting the use of wood in design and construction, the event engaged the two professions to collaborate on their distinctive designs — something that rarely happens in universities across Canada, says David Moses, principal of Moses Structural Engineers.

"They are taught in very separate streams and they usually don't interact until they get out into the working world," he says.

Each team was given a pile of lumber and instructions to come up with their own design and build it in the most efficient manner they could.

The shelters were required to meet modern loading standards, just like any building.

"We're actually loading up weights on top of the structures and pulling on them to make sure they didn't break or collapse," says Moses.

They idea is to set students on a path to designing better buildings. As construction is neither discipline's strong point, Moses says he called upon Carpenters Local 27 to guide each team through the building challenges.

Chris Campbell, Local 27 business representative and a journeyperson carpenter, led a crew of up to 16 journeypersons and apprentices to help students through the construction of their shelters.

The carpenters showed them how to safely use power tools, taught them various wood cuts and fastening methods and efficient means of assembly.

"We try to get across to them that they can use the resources around them efficiently; they don't need to try to reinvent the wheel," says Campbell.

Vincent Hui, professor of architectural science at Ryerson, agrees.

"Getting the students out of the conventional architectural classroom model and into doing hands-on (learning) is important because it is a critical component of contemporary education now," Hui says.

Hands-on experience is a "game-changing event" for students, he says, adding "it pervades their education from that day onward."

Hui says most schools of architecture in Canada's universities are insular.

"Activities like this that involve collaboration are something we (Ryerson) pride ourselves on," he says.

Students, adds Hui, develop interpersonal and leadership skills and "learn how to get projects done."

Twenty-year-old, third-year architectural science student Abhishek Wagle, who co-chaired TimberFever, says the stereotype of an antagonistic relationship between architects, engineers and builders often stems from poor communications between the disciplines.

Collaborative exercises like TimberFever teach students how to work together to minimize problems through a project's development.

Wagle says the carpenters were "a great help" because many of the students had no carpentry experience. Initially, some were afraid to use some power tools, such as chop saws.

The small sun shelter was designed as a space for the public to rest — a canopy of shade from the summer heat, Wagle says.

Moses, a practising engineer for more than 20 years, says when he went to engineering school there was no opportunity to interact with architectural students.

He says that the students' exposure to wood in design and construction is "extremely important."

University curriculums place little emphasis on wood design for engineering and architectural students, Moses points out.

"The other materials (concrete and steel, for example) are given much more airplay," he says.

The engineer adds that the experience of TimberFever will stick with students as they enter the work world.

"Having physically worked with the material makes a tremendous difference," he says.

Moses says that none of the students knew in advance who they would be working with.

"It's kind of like real life; you don't know you will have to work with when you are designing a building," he says.

Stanley Tools provided students with the tools. StopGap Foundation provided colourful wheelchair ramps for each project. Several other companies and organizations were also sponsors.

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