Study to nail down housing issues

Researchers receive additional funds to investigate eco-friendly housing in Scandinavia, Canada and Japan

by Andy Poon staff writer

A $1.1-million grant supporting research in sustainable Japanese wood housing has been extended from six to nine years through the injection of an estimated $600,000.

UBC President Martha Piper joined Akira Yamaguchi, founder and president of the Winter Research Institute in Hokkaido, Japan on campus to sign the agreement.

The agreement with the institute will see the work of an interdisciplinary team expanded from studying wood structures in Japan and Canada to include housing in Scandinavia. In addition, collaboration with the University of Tokyo and Harvard School of Public Health will be enhanced.

The team is led by researchers from the Dept. of Wood Science.

"This means that we can take a much more holistic approach to environmentally sound housing in the northern regions by including more countries," says Wood Science Assoc. Prof. David Cohen, the project's leader.

"This should also facilitate the transfer of ideas, technologies and concepts to produce housing which is more earth-friendly and contributes to society."

The research grant is based on the recognition that a key component of sustainable forestry is to use renewable wood products for their "best" purpose.

In the summer of 1996, a six-person team of UBC researchers travelled to Japan to study the traditional and modern uses of wood in construction. They were interested in the fact that despite the growth of residential highrises in Japan, there is a three-millennia-long practice of building with wood on the tiny island nation. As a result, close to 50 per cent of all residential housing is wood-based--unique in Asia where the preference is stone or masonry.

This led to collaborative research projects among faculty members from the Dept. of Wood Science, the School of Architecture and the Dept. of Civil Engineering.

The projects range from looking at the use of wood in traditional Japanese temples to an analysis of roofing forms in areas with heavy snowfalls. Cohen points out that the emphasis is on studying innovative ideas and practices that contribute to a "total housing system." Not only does this cover the design, promotion, production, construction and research that goes into building environmentally friendly wood-based buildings but also includes the social and health concerns related to the construction.

The extension to the grant will allow researchers to continue their work in these areas well into the middle of this decade.