News & Updates

“Quite a Legacy”

Angelique Pilon, UBC

Angelique Pilon leads the Urban Innovation Research Group at the University of British Columbia’s Sustainability Initiative. The research group is leading the research effort to study the Vienna House project at a very fine level of detail. Here, she outlines the curriculum.

What does urban innovation research entail?

We help develop and manage interdisciplinary applied research projects with a focus on city-related issues, especially issues related to buildings and infrastructure. We help put together teams of researchers, we study various complex issues, and then we help translate that academic research to briefs and technical documents for policymakers and practitioners.

What challenges is Vienna House looking to solve?

Vienna House is addressing a number of very complex problems that Vancouver—and many other cities—is dealing with around the world. Primarily, there’s a major housing crisis. We have more people living in cities than ever before, and we do not have enough housing for them. We’re also addressing the climate crisis, where the climate around us is changing and we need to change how we build buildings. We need to change all of our human practices in order to reduce and eliminate the carbon dioxide that we’re putting in the atmosphere.

What makes the project unique, from a research perspective?

Vienna House is a very unique project, because it’s really trying to tackle a number of complex issues in the same site. We’re trying to address housing, we’re trying to address climate change, and we’re trying to learn from our experiences to make better buildings in the future. So really, at the core of it, we’re hoping to learn about effective design and construction strategies that will help us respond to both the housing crisis and the climate crisis at the same time.

What are your objectives?

We have two high-level goals. One, we will study the decisions and the processes that the design and construction teams go through. We want to understand what the most effective design and construction strategies are that are implemented in Vienna House, what’s successful, what’s a failure, and what we can do better in the future. And second, knowledge dissemination is a key component of Vienna House. We will be capturing a massive amount of information. We’re going to synthesize that and share it very broadly with practitioners in the design and construction industry, and with policymakers and regulators who are trying to develop new initiatives and policies to implement this type of housing.

Many people have this notion that affordable housing should be, well, cheap. What do you say to them?

We as a society, and as an industry, need to learn how to build all of our housing to the same high quality levels. People living in affordable housing complexes should be enjoying the same quality of buildings as people in high-end market housing.

The project is still being finalized, but it’s expected to focus on modular and off-site wood construction. Why?

Wood is a very versatile material that has a lot of benefits. Primarily, there’s an environmental benefit. Wood sequesters carbon; as trees grow, they absorb carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. When the trees are cut down, that’s locked into the wood product for the life of that wood. And so we’re actually helping to remove carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as a climate change mitigation measure and lock that into our buildings.

And there is a lot of it available in British Columbia.

Yes, wood is a major source of industry and economic growth for Canada and British Columbia. We have one of the largest forestry reserves in the world, and one of the largest forestry industries in the world. Most of our forests are sustainably harvested. And so by supporting and purchasing local products and local wood, we are helping to grow and develop our British Columbia and Canadian economies.

As a scholar, what excites you about this project?Vienna House is tackling a number of complex issues in a single project: It is tackling the climate crisis and the housing crisis. It’s trying to create new economic opportunities. Complex projects like this present many opportunities for learning and research. The knowledge that we learn from Vienna House will inform future policies that will inform future regulations, and will help provide the guidelines for how we can build better buildings in the future. There will be quite a legacy.