February 14, 2006

City of Richmond

The City of Richmond is the new home for the Olympic oval skating rink which will incorporate more wood into its design versus now-costly steel.

2010 Olympics

Cost-cutting offset with innovative design


Rising construction costs for the 2010 Olympics is creating new opportunities for architectural design as VANOC looks for ways to curb costs.

David Wilkinson, vice-president of the Architectural Institute of B.C. and a principal in Cannon Johnstone Architecture Inc. in Victoria said architectural results might surprise many that come to B.C. to see the legacy buildings that are being created in the current climate.

“Some impractical means of construction are becoming practical,” he said of the escalating cost of materials. Traditional components that architects may have used in the past, such as steel which is ramping up in price as world demand grows, is now being challenged by other building materials such as wood.

Wilkinson gives the example of the oval skating rink his firm has designed in Richmond where his company is eyeing the use of long-span, glue-laminated wooden beams to support the long-span roof structure. At one time, he says, the use of wood would have been deemed to costly, but steel prices are edging up and opening new doors.

Currently, he says, engineers are working to determine whether spans over 100 metres can be done in the roof. “If it is successful, it will be convergence of technology and the willingness to show a Canadian wood products.”

He calls the use of Canadian wood an “elegant” solution to the construction problem, noting wood was used heavily in Olympic rinks in Japan and Norway. “We all have high hopes and you will know if we were successful or not by looking up when the building opens and seeing either wood or steel.

VANOC figures indicated steel costs from the time of the original bid to 2005 had increased 40.4 per cent, reinforcing bar 57.7 per cent, asphalt 20 per cent, concrete form work 20-25 per cent, excavation costs 12-16 per cent, and piling work by 15-20 per cent.

In the shifting climate, architects will also ensure alternate solutions reflect a West Coast feel and stay on budget, says Wilkinson. While VANOC has announced a $110 million cost overrun in its new budget, it also identified in addition $85 million in building efficiencies that could be achieved as it conducted a project-by-project review.

There is little chance that B.C. will end up with shoeboxes for Olympic sites, though.

“That would only happen if the projects went hopelessly off track and had to be built at the last moment,” says Wilkinson. He says the architects, construction crew and engineers are working together as a team with the clients to ensure that costs are realistic. He says it is often the client or public who is unaware of the escalating construction costs being seen in the market today. As such, the “over-run” is not a cost higher than the bid figure as it is a truer estimation of what it will cost to build the structures in today’s market.

One advantage B.C. has is that West Coast design is often clean and simple – much like Scandinavian design – and hat will provide several advantages, including building cost reductions and extended life as structures adapt to new uses.

Wilkinson feels architects will rise to the challenge of providing legacy building even in the hot market. “Architectural excellence is not really based on cost,” he says, adding that when costs need to be cut, there is opportunity for inventive design. “Necessity is the mother of invention.”


The new Vancouver Convention Centre, already under construction prior to Vancouver’s successful Olympic bid, will play double duty as the new headquarters for broadcasters covering the 2010 Games. The plan is among several new ideas on ways VANOC intends to save $85 million in construction costs.

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