Alberta Timber Museum Recognized for Cutting Edge Wood Design

The Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum in Wembley, Alberta, is one of Canada’s most prized museums of natural history and paleontology. It’s also been celebrated for its incredible design and use of heavy timber and natural elements as a nod to the paleo heritage. Designed by the Ontario architect firm, Teeple Architects and in collaboration with Fast + Epp Engineers and Structure Craft, the museum was built in 2021 to be a striking display that emulates the feel of the Triassic period.

The unique design of the museum was created through an innovative system of mass timber columns held together with timber nodes. The architects utilized locally-sourced timber for the structure and acoustic wood finishes to develop the sustainable building. The idea for the design was to denote warmth while maintaining a dramatic and compelling appearance. The interior of the museum includes an exposed timber ceiling and large windows. The building can handle extreme temperatures common in the Alberta region because it is built with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind.

Designed with Sustainability as A Priority

Wood-framed buildings tend to generate fewer greenhouse gases than non-wood structures, making them a popular choice for architects with sustainability in mind. To design the timber nodes, the architects used complex 3D models to craft each piece before they were fabricated to ensure the shape was kept within material constraints.

Yet, this process was a challenging feat. “The challenge was this: how to bring up to eight different large cross-section members into a single joint in a way that is aesthetically natural, using wood, and able to handle the complex structural forces and eccentricities inherent in the geometry. The answer was to carve simple sheets of plywood using a computer into efficiently nested shapes that could be glued and screwed together into the required unique 3D form most natural for each unique node,” explained Gerald A. Epp, president, and chief engineer of StructureCraft. The 3D technology used to create the three-dimensional structural nodes was invented directly for this purpose.

The largest nodes are over 1500mm tall by 2400mm wide and were produced with around 180 CNC pieces. Every layer of timber node was cut from a basic, 16mm thick 4’x8′ sheet of plywood; each piece had its own global node number as well as a part number relative to its position in the node. 1250 unique layers were cut from 250 sheets of plywood to create the nodes. “A heavy timber solution was the perfect fit for this project; it achieved the desired fire rating, contributed a warm and pleasing aesthetic, and was a cost-effective method of framing the complex roof geometry,” noted Stephan Pasche, senior associate at Fast + Epp.

The Alberta museum has become an important location to draw in community members and tourists alike. The wood nodes designed for the structure have been considered revolutionary and allowed the museum to become recognized and admired by timber architects and design enthusiasts across the world. “Buildings that draw international attention tend to be located in the larger urban centres of the world where there are the resources to pull off bold and expressive projects, but small cities and rural towns deserve excellent design as much as large cities do. This museum proves that when communities unite behind projects, they can create great things,” said Martin Baron, partner at Temple Architects.

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