ASPECT Structural Engineers Announces Two New Principal Positions

Ilana Danzig and Will Watson are now ASPECT Principals, adding to the firm’s respected local and global leadership.

Established in 2016, ASPECT has experienced continued growth over the past eight years, due to both the clear-minded leadership of the firm’s Founding Principals, as well as the commitment of local and global ASPECT team members. Adding to the existing ASPECT Principal team – which includes Bernhard Gafner, Andrew Chad, Mehrdad Jahangiri, Gina Sheppard, and Adam Gerber – the announcement of these two new Principals signals both an affirmation of this continued growth, as well as a realignment of the firm’s leadership team. Both Ilana and Will embody ASPECT’s core values of quality, accountability, drive, diversity, and collaboration, and will act as ambassadors of the firm as we continue to grow.

Below is a bit more information about Ilana and Will – their locations, their tenure with the firm, and a deep dive into the value that they provide to our teams and to our clients.

 

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Ilana Danzig, P.Eng., Struct.Eng., M.Eng., PE, SE,
Managing Principal, Vancouver

Ilana Danzig joined ASPECT in 2019, and it was immediately clear that she was an irreplaceable leader for our internal and external project teams. With more than 15 years of structural engineering experience, and a thorough understanding of all material types across project typologies. Her twin passions for mass timber and seismic design became the foundation for much of her work today, including her developing expertise in emerging areas, such as off-site prefabrication and construction engineering for mass timber buildings. Beyond her technical expertise, the way that Ilana works – her organizational skills, her communication style, her collaborative nature – quickly became noticed and admired by both staff and clients. Ilana’s leadership has delivered boundary-pushing projects such as the developments at District 56 in Langford BC – including Tallwood 1, the first Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction (EMTC) tall wood building in Canada, and Terminus, which includes the first steel/timber hybrid buckling-restrained brace (BRB) lateral system. Her experience has also frequently extended beyond the borders of BC, and Ilana has helped to significantly grow ASPECT’s portfolio of work across the United States as well.

Ilana’s work within ASPECT has also directly led to significant leadership and research opportunities outside of ASPECT. She regularly advocates for more women in the engineering industry, and openly discusses design solutions that align with widespread society needs (such as sustainable wood and timber design solutions in response to the housing crisis). Because of her expertise, in combination with her natural ability to explain complex topics clearly and succinctly, Ilana is a highly sought speaker and instructor in the industry, with multiple publications to her credit.

As Managing Principal of ASPECT’s Vancouver office, Ilana is accountable for the performance and operations of our Vancouver teams and projects. While she has been a respected leader for ASPECT since she first walked through the door, as Principal, Ilana’s guidance and vision will be further amplified as both the Vancouver office and the firm continue to grow.

 

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Will Watson, SE, PE
Principal, Head of Engineering

Will Watson joined ASPECT in November of last year and, while his time with ASPECT has been short, he has already made a significant impact. Over the course of his more than 15 years in the industry, Will has worn many hats. He is based out of Seattle, Washington, and is licensed as a professional engineer and structural engineer in multiple States. He has a proven history developing and leading project execution strategies for international, multi-disciplinary engineering firms on projects around the world, including work on the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, and the New International Airport in Mexico City.

In addition to his hands-on project delivery experience, Will has a strong background in product design, pre-fabrication design, and manufacturing support. He understands the “big picture” of engineering operations, as well as the details of product development.

Will has joined our firm not only as Principal, but also as Head of Engineering – a role through which he will share his passion for scalable construction practices on a global level. Providing leadership for company-wide efficiency and collaboration, Will leads project delivery systems, applying methods to enhance quality and efficiency for all of ASPECT.

 

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To learn more about these new positions, please reach out to Ilana or Will through their LinkedIn pages, or contact Samantha Armitage, Director of Marketing & Communications.


New Sustainability Lead Joins Global ASPECT Team

Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, Caroline Butchart (MEng, CEng, MIstructE, LEED Green Associate) joined ASPECT in November of 2023.

Caroline will perform the dual role of Sustainability Lead and Senior Engineer for the firm, providing not only project leadership but also championing sustainability initiatives for all ASPECT team members around the world.

A proven technical and sustainability leader, Caroline’s experience spans continents, with contributions to large-scale, architecturally ambitious developments in the UK, Europe, and Canada. Caroline has consistently demonstrated an undeniable interest in (and passion for) building re-use, particularly design for low embodied carbon and design for disassembly. She is also a respected public speaker and industry leader, as well as a frequent guest lecturer for schools such as the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Caroline hosted the BC Embodied Carbon Awards in 2023, and is the co-author of the EGBC Embodied Carbon Guidelines for Structural Engineers. She also sits on the CAGBC Embodied Carbon Technical Advisory Group.

With more than a decade of experience, and a comprehensive understanding of a range of building materials and typologies, Caroline is bringing her top-tier engineering capabilities to the ASPECT team, not to mention dedicated structural sustainability leadership that underscores our pre-existing in-house capabilities.

We sat down with Caroline to learn a bit more about what drives her, why she chose to join ASPECT, and the priorities she sees for structural sustainability in the Canadian market…

 

Mass Timber Roof Showing Crossed Beams

What appealed to you about this position and about joining ASPECT?

Caroline Butchart: This role really provides the perfect marriage between my structural engineering experience and my passion for sustainability. Having worked in both areas in the past, and knowing ASPECT’s intentions around this role, I knew this would be an exciting opportunity to shape the sustainability work of the firm.

I was also really drawn to ASPECT’s mass timber expertise, especially our fabrication design and 3D fabrication modelling work. I think people are aware that mass timber is a low carbon alternative to steel and concrete, but beyond that, mass timber really lends itself well to other important sustainable design strategies, such as design for disassembly and minimizing our impact on biodiversity. I’m excited to work with mass timber specialists, and leverage this expertise to create low carbon, "full-disassembly" projects.

 

This passion for mass timber – where does it stem from?

CB: For me, it goes all the way back to my first years working as a structural engineer. That’s when I really saw the magnitude of concrete and steel we’re putting into the world to do relatively simple things. It felt excessive and so wasteful, and like we (as an industry) had our priorities backward. Mass timber, when used mindfully and efficiently, stands in opposition to this culture of excess.

Beyond this personal experience, mass timber has three strong arguments in its favour. First of all, of course, you’re building with a natural material – not something that has to be mined and heavily processed. Sustainability being tied to something so nature-based seems obvious, but is also often overlooked.

Secondly, there is (of course) the low carbon aspect, in that prioritizing mass timber as a building material has the potential to result in a significant reduction in embodied carbon emissions. That may seem like stating the obvious, but I think what is consistently overlooked is the “time” importance of embodied carbon. Achieving net zero by 2050 is not the only target – meeting dramatic reductions by 2030 is also critical if we’re to avoid climate tipping points (like the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets). When you build a building, those carbon emissions occur right away. If we want to meet our 2030 goals, we have to start prioritizing embodied carbon reductions on the projects we are designing today.

Thirdly, a topic that I am particularly passionate about, is the fact that mass timber lends itself well to design for disassembly. It’s a material that, when designed thoughtfully, can be deconstructed, and sparks further interest in the idea of looking at buildings as material (or carbon) banks.

 

You’ve brought up "Design for Disassembly" a couple of times. You started your career in the UK – can you speak to your experience with this topic (and other trends) in the UK versus what you’re seeing in Canada?

CB: In the UK, and also in Europe, there is a growing momentum behind both building re-use and material re-use as carbon reduction levers. Why? Because the lowest carbon building materials are the ones we already have! In the UK, there is already a culture of re-use stemming from heritage requirements of some of our older and more noteworthy building stock. Increasingly however, people are realizing that building re-use and building upgrade projects are great ways to minimize the emissions associated with the construction industry. In London for example, there are requirements for design teams to submit a circular economy statement for all new buildings, outlining how their project considers material waste, future adaptability and concepts like design for disassembly. I am seeing more and more examples of salvaged materials used in new buildings, or new buildings used as a material bank for future projects,

Here in Canada, there are certainly building upgrade projects that seek to maintain the existing building as much as possible. Some noteworthy projects that I have been involved with in the past are the "Inn at Laurel Point" Renewal Project, as well as several buildings part of the Simon Fraser University campus redevelopment. I would love to see more of this work. The seismic demands in the Pacific northwest make these projects more challenging, but not impossible.

Overall, material re-use in Canada really isn’t a mainstream topic yet. Champions like BCIT and "Unbuilders" are leading the way, with BCIT actually offering a circular economy microcredential.  Additionally, the City of Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, and the City of Victoria all have “Deconstruction Bylaws” for single-family homes that aim to encourage deconstruction and material salvage, rather than the “business as usual” approach of sending huge piles of rubble to the landfill.

As we see heightened regulations in Canada around embodied carbon, I think we will start to see more and more building and material re-use as a way to meet these embodied carbon targets, and I’m excited that this will naturally push the whole industry forward.

 

The communication about sustainability in design and construction has become so muddled. If there was a misconception that you would debunk tomorrow if you could…what would it be?

CB: There are a few, but I would say the largest is the belief that you can achieve a low carbon building simply by swapping out standard products for low carbon alternatives. In reality, the most effective way to reduce embodied carbon is to reduce material quantities. That means being smarter and more efficient in our designs (as well as re-using existing materials!). Structural engineers can really help with that (and I would say this even if I wasn’t one myself). Engage structural engineers early, and they can design more efficiently.

The bonus here is that if we’re more efficient with the materials we’re using, material costs go down too!

 

Seems simple enough. Are there other “simple” solutions that can make a big difference in achieving carbon neutrality?

CB: It all comes from that main idea – that improving the efficiency of the structure is one of the easiest ways to improve embodied carbon performance. It’s a relatively simple idea, but I would love for it to become more central. Even small structural elements – each beam, each column – make a difference. Looking at these details is where you will find the most “small wins”.

We all seem to think of sustainability in these big ways, but really, a thoughtful approach to every layer of the structure is what is needed. Every consideration counts. Maybe a building owner doesn’t have the capacity to look at a whole building right now. But looking at one corner of a building, or just the beams, is a great start. I really believe we will (and need to) see more thinking like this in the years ahead.

 

If you could impart one piece of wisdom around sustainability into the “overall thinking” of the building industry tomorrow, what would it be?

CB: Quite simply: re-using existing materials is possible. And, not only is it possible, but it is a “win” for material costs and embodied carbon.

As with anything, the key to success in shifting to this mindset is creating awareness early on. It’s not something that you can really think about after a building is already demolished.

 

You seem (and sound) very optimistic, which isn’t a tone one always hears in the news around the climate crisis. Where would you say your optimism comes from?

CB: Without a doubt, my optimism comes from interacting with and discussing these issues with other people within the industry. I’m a volunteer with the Carbon Leadership Forum BC (CLF BC) and sit on the CAGBC Technical Advisory Group for Embodied Carbon, and everyone involved with these groups is doing such great work. I have the good fortune to meet with really smart people in the industry, and to do so both personally and professionally. The conversations we’re having, and the work I see them doing, is what excites me the most…and makes me confident that we are going to achieve our 2030 / 2050 goals.

 

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A big welcome to Caroline Butchart – we’re thrilled to have you as part of the ASPECT team!

You can read more about Caroline’s experience and expertise through our Team Page or reach out to say “hi!” through her LinkedIn Page.


"So, Aspect - how did you spend your Summer?"

Well, Summer is over (insert sad face), the breeze is cooler and fall has begun. We’ve been asked many times, “So Aspect, how did you spend your Summer?”…so we thought we’d share some highlights!

Back in early June, Bernhard attended the AIA Conference on Architecture in San Francisco and co-presented “How Mass Timber Buildings Improve our Climate and our Communities” with our friends from SFI, Jamestown, and Leers Weinzapful. Along with interesting sessions, thought-provoking discussions, and the latest on new products and fabricators, it was great to meet with clients and make new connections!

Bernhard presenting at the AIA Conference on Architecture

At the end of June, Ornagh and Brendan (with Mehrdad in tow) took off for Oslo, Norway and the World Conference on Timber Engineering (WCTE), one of the most exciting events on the mass timber calendar. They presented papers on our Tallwood 1 and Terminus projects, and returned inspired and full of knowledge as well. Some of the stand-out presentations included:

  • Keynote Speaker, Age Holmestad, a Norwegian mass timber expert involved in many famous and groundbreaking timber structures, who provided insights from his work over the past 40 years.
  • Another Keynote Speaker, Jennifer Cover, President and CEO of Woodworks US, highlighted the importance of using timber as a means of sustainable construction to meet the growing demand for housing as the population grows
  • A number of Fire Design concepts, presented by: David Barber of Arup (a study exploring the fire resistance of exterior CLT building walls in various fire cases); Lakehead University (various CLT  concrete composite floor slab fire tests) and Hans Eric Blomgren (fire design of glulam connections with timber-to-timber bearing interfaces).
  • Designing for Robustness in Mass Timber, with presentations by Pedro Palma (on revisions underway for Eurocode 5), and Johannes A.J. Huber (on Application of Tube Connector for Catenary Action in CLT Floors).
  • Code discussions on the state of both Canadian and American code provisions for tall mass timber with presentations by the Canadian Wood Council an American Wood Council.
Mehrdad, Ornagh and Brendan with Deirdre Kent, the Canadian Ambassador to Norway

 

Ornagh presenting on Tallwood 1

 

Brendan presenting on Terminus

Outside of the conference, the team had fun exploring the city, the architecture, and especially partaking in the saunas at the harbour!

Oslo Opera House

 

Astrup Fearnley Museet

 

Saunas on the Harbour

In July, there was more fun (and adrenaline) had in Europe, when Bernhard, Beatrice, Ornagh, and Thomas completed the Eiger Ultra Trail together in Switzerland, a race through some of the most famous mountains and picturesque landscapes in the region.

Bernhard, Ornagh, Beatrice and Thomas at the end of the Eiger Ultra Trail – well done, team!

A few days later, the Fabrication Design team set out on a super educational tour of mass timber suppliers and fabricators in Austria and Switzerland, including:

1. The Hasslacher headquarters, glulam plant, and specialty glulam production facilities in Hermagor, and Sachsenburg. It was truly awesome to see in person the incredible amount of automation incorporated, along with the saw block gluing press, assembly, and finishing end before seeing glulam packages prepped and packed into containers for their journeys around the world.

2. Binderholz headquarters and production facilities in Hallein and Jenbach, where the team got to see glulam and assembly for one of our very own US office projects!

3. A stop at CREE Buildings headquarters, LCT One, in Dornbirn where our friends Tim and Julia from CREE graciously provided a tour of the building, and an overview of the CREE system.

4. The specialty glulam freeform production facility of Blumer Lehmann in Gossau, Switzerland, as well as the sawmill and lumber production nearby.

Obligatory group shot in the mountains!

Back over in Canada, we continued to work hard on many projects - and definitely provided valuable work experience to our co-op/intern students, ensuring they stayed focused!

Yes, there’s an intern in there!

It was summer after all, so there were many excursions for ice cream too...

In early September, Meike returned to the BC Wood Global Buyers Mission (GBM) in Whistler and presented on Design for Constructability with Mike Marshall from Kinsol. Always great to connect with those interested in specifying and buying wood products!

We were also super proud to host our first sponsor event with WCE (Women in Consulting Engineering) in Vancouver which was a negotiation workshop with The Thoughtful Co. As passionate advocates of women in engineering this event was very close to our hearts, and provided a ton of valuable information and tips that can be used by anyone in negotiations.

Julia and Gina at the WCE Negotiation workshop
Sophie & Jillian from The Thoughtful Co.

On top of all that, we enjoyed many Lunch & Learns from valued suppliers, had lots of new faces join our teams, and we started a variety of new and exciting projects. Thanks to all who added to our fantastic summer!

So, tell us - what did you do this summer? 


A Case Study in Collaboration: B&B Hotel Guimarães

Timber-hybrid front view of B&B Hotel Guimaraes

Along with the teams from CREE Buildings, Grupo Casais and B&B Hotels Group, we recently completed a very a unique project in Guimarães, Portugal – the B&B Hotel Guimarães – which is the first timber-hybrid construction of its kind on the Iberian Peninsula. The project consists of two separate blocks: one is a hotel for the B&B Hotels Group, and the other is an apartment block with 44 apartments. 

Timber-hybrid walls going up at B&B Hotel Guimaraes

Installation of the prefabricated façade panels

The structure consists of a combined podium in reinforced concrete, supporting two 4-storey CREE buildings overtop. The total floor area is 7,200 sq.m. (77,500 sq.ft.), where the CREE system represents approximately 4,100 sq.m. (44,000 sq.ft.). Our scope of work included design assist, specialty engineering, fabrication design and installation engineering.

The CREE floor panels span 6.3m (21 ft.) and 8.1m (26 ft.) respectively. An interior steel girder along one side of the corridors picks up these floor slabs. The girder is flush with the floor system to avoid any downstands. The perimeter columns are exposed glulam and integrated into the façade panels. These façade panels were fully prefabricated in the shop, allowing for quick and reliable installation of the system. And once the floor panels were in place, the building was weatherproof and protected from rain – allowing the follow-up trades to commence their work much faster than compared to a traditional approach.

Timber-hybrid hotel being built named B&B Hotel Guimaraes

Installation of CREE floor panels

During the design assist phase, we helped the Grupo Casais team to better understand the CREE system itself. We also helped to identify the key requirements and scopes for the various suppliers – allowing Grupo Casais to identify the appropriate trade partners, the respective scopes of work and interfaces between trades.

The specialty engineering included the entire CREE system - from designing the Timber-Concrete CREE slabs, steel support girders, and columns and façade panels (including the load bearing columns). The design was done in such a way to accommodate the trade partners as much as possible, reducing cost and increasing certainty on quality and schedule.

Timber-hybrid hotel being built named B&B Hotel Guimaraes

The fabrication design scope included creation of a geometry model (accurate representation of member sizing and location), that was relied upon by other team members to geometrically coordinate the interfaces. The fabrication level 3D modelling included the CREE slabs and façade panels. This was followed by the required 2D drawings such as single piece and shop assembly drawings, as well as material lists. The CREE slabs are a true hybrid system, consisting of precast concrete, steel embeds, glulam beams, and all the associated hardware. It is common for structural detailing firms to only cover one scope – always tied to a single material. With our team, we were able to provide fabrication level information across materials and reduce communication channels by keeping everything in-house. That saved time and increased the predictability on the production side.

3D Fabrication Model by Aspect

For the installation of the CREE system, we supported the team with general arrangement / sequencing drawings as well as how to lift the elements and temporary works requirements.

It only took 8 working days to assemble the CREE components for one block! – So, 16 days total installation time for the CREE components. The follow-up trades were working at a similar pace, thanks to the bathroom pods and high level of prefabrication of the MEP systems. All these components were dropped onto the floor slabs during the CREE installation, and then assembled once the CREE installation crew was working on the floors above.

 

Timber-hybrid hotel room at B&B Hotel Guimaraes

Timber-hybrid entrance at B&B Hotel Guimaraes

Learn more about the project here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=540K4hVPJxM&t=3s

https://www.creebuildings.com/project/the-first-in-guimaraes

https://edificiossustentaveis.casais.pt/en/

A huge thank you to Grupo Casais and CREE Buildings for bringing us onto the team for such a fun project! If you’re near Guimarães, be sure to stop by - and maybe even book yourself a stay.

Project Details:

Client: Grupo Casais, CREE Buildings

Architect: Mário Fernandes

Scope of Work: Design Assist, Specialty Engineering, Fabrication Design, and Installation Engineering

Engineer of Record: TopBIM

Photography: Bruno Barbosa, Grupo Casais

 


Rachel wearing a hardhat checking out a site

A Challenge to the Industry for Women in Engineering Day

By Ilana Danzig

Associate Principal | P.Eng., Struct.Eng., M.Eng., PE, SE

Female engineer wearing safety helmet and examining blueprints on Women in Engineering Day.

A recent headline from Bloomberg proclaimed (with no shortage of irony) that across a large selection of US companies, the number of female CEOs has now surpassed the number of CEOs named John. It’s hard to believe this disparity is still so extreme in 2023 - but alas, here we are. 

When we take a minute to consider the field of structural engineering, I think many would agree that this can often be a hard field to work in. While it can be immensely satisfying, fulfilling, and fun to bring some incredible structures to reality, it is also very technical, the deadlines are constant, the hours can be long, and the stakes are high. These are not factors that impact one gender disproportionately, but when combined with societal pressures, limited female representation, often minimal mentorship and support, and little appreciation for personal or caregiving needs, it’s no surprise that women are still leaving this field at a rate that reflects poorly on the industry.

However, there is light at the end of this tunnel. The industry has started to shift, notably in how universities and organizations acknowledge, talk about, and actively try to tackle the disparity. We are starting to see that conferences are actively encouraging diversity in their speakers and panels. We are seeing requests from architects and owners to include senior-level women on their project teams. We are seeing grants in this industry that are made available to minority-owned and women-owned firms. Amidst this shift, however, the percentage of female engineering graduates is staying more or less steady, meaning we won't get to equity without a concerted effort.

What does that effort look like? There are no quick fixes, and changing the status quo is never comfortable. But like any improvements, incremental changes built on the already shifting sands of equity can start to make a difference. At Aspect, we have seen that striving towards gender equity - one of our firm’s founding principles - is an active, ongoing matter to continue to work towards, and we are seeing results. 

We invite and challenge this industry, including our peers, our colleagues, our clients, and ourselves, to bring some of the following strategies into standard practice.  

It starts with hiring: you don’t get anywhere if you don’t try 

Our industry today is male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean that female candidates don’t exist. Take a look at your application and interview process, and see if there are opportunities to even out the playing field. Watch for gender-specific language in job ads that may keep women from even applying, and consider how different candidates will over-estimate or under-estimate their qualifications based on gendered socialization. Actively including women in the hiring process, and prioritizing diversity in a shortlisted pool of candidates goes a long way towards having a shot at impacting gender diversity of the organization. While female senior engineering candidates are all too rare, ensure that at intern, junior, and intermediate levels, qualified female candidates get onto that shortlist. Support, mentorship, and coaching will then build them into the senior female engineers that this industry needs (see next topic).

2 Women sitting in the boardroom conducting an interview for a position at the office discussing the challenges women in engineering face.

Career development: Build a culture of mentorship and coaching that serves everyone

Appreciate that team members will come to work with different levels of experience, confidence, and capabilities. Some will actively pursue every opportunity and others will wait their turn. An environment that is built around mentorship and coaching in formal and informal ways will help the development of all staff. We so often choose those like us to mentor and champion, and being aware of that bias is the first step in being able to ensure that we provide career support across the board. This is especially critical since female engineers entering this field so rarely have senior-level female representation and role models.

A close-up of a woman engineer working on a computer, showcasing diversity in the field on Women in Engineering Day.

Leaders: challenge each other! If managing is comfortable, you are doing it wrong 
Having as diverse a leadership team as possible, and one that is fully empowered to constructively and respectfully challenge one another, will help catch those innate biases that we all carry. We are all used to having our technical work critiqued, and the same should go with being able to critique one another and catch where our biases are playing out. As managers, we shouldn’t let the fragility of our egos get in the way of receiving this kind of critical feedback. 

Call out and end boys-club culture 
Engineering isn’t a “boy’s club” any longer, and it shouldn’t feel like one. Talk to women who have worked or do work in these toxic environments, and the experiences range from endless micro-aggressions to sexual harassment. This sort of culture thrives in being deliberately ignored or laughed off. To be ended, it has to be called out first, which itself is no easy feat.

An inspiring image of a woman engineer in action, representing the contributions of women on Women in Engineering Day.

Make space for real life: Supporting parents and caregivers is not a woman’s issue, but it will help keep women in the industry 

Why is it still rare in this industry for parents to receive parental leave top-ups? What better way to attract and retain women than to provide reasonable benefits to parents and caregivers that will help them stay in this industry while starting or growing a family? These are benefits that so many industries don’t think twice about providing. It is a cost this industry can afford, and the payback is huge. We can go one step further as well: a better work-life balance will preclude parents and caregivers from needing to choose between their career and their family. I was heartbroken when, as a young woman, I was told I would have to choose between being a structural engineer and being a parent, but that isn’t the way it has to be (and I chose both). Long, grueling hours are not good for anyone, and this environment will eliminate some of the brightest and best at the peak of their career. 

Equity doesn’t stop at gender 

Take a good look at the engineering community around you. This field, in addition to being male-dominated, isn’t always welcoming to BIPOC, queer, gender non-conforming, and disabled communities. As we continue to climb the mountain of gender equity (glass ceiling, we’re coming for you!), we will all benefit by the expanding mindset of who belongs in an engineering firm today. Inclusive and equitable diversity can be a superpower in an engineering firm, helping to generate new ideas through different outlooks and experiences.  

A few words about our efforts at ASPECT

Women currently make up 37% of our team, and we are always striving to push that higher. Women are represented in all departments and at all levels at Aspect, and we support all teammates with flexible working schedule, additional support for parental, family, and protected leaves, a transparent compensation structure, and extensive mentorship and professional development practices. We are the first to admit that we don’t have it all figured out, but we do know that our efforts towards equity and diversity have only made this firm better and stronger. 

Photo of the Aspect team curling


Yield House Featured on Dezeen

We’re big fans of Dezeen around here and even bigger fans when our projects are featured! Check out this recent Dezeen article featuring Yield House by Splyce Design

This contemporary, 3-storey, single-family residence in Vancouver, BC is heavily glazed in the front and rear facades, with the front acting as stacked viewing platforms towards ocean and mountain views. The residence also features an elegant cantilevered staircase from the sidewalk along a concrete retaining wall, and an occupiable green roof deck.

Inside, the design includes a feature staircase comprised of thin steel stringers paired with a thin steel plate landing and a tensioned cable stair guard.

Photo of modern staircase

Behind the scenes, the structure consists of light wood frame and steel elements in the upper levels while concrete suspended slabs and walls were used on the basement and main levels. The project also includes a 900 sq. ft. detached garage built of light wood frame construction.

Photo of square house at dusk with lights on in the living area.

Photo of the front of the house at dusk.

Huge thanks to Splyce Design for including us on this fantastic project!

To read the full feature click here.

 

Architect: Splyce Design

Builder: Adisa Homes

Photographer: Ema Peter 


Aspect Climate Chronicles – Part 3: What Is Aspect doing?

In this final installment of our Aspect Climate Chronicles series, we’ll get right to the point and share what we’re doing to address the climate emergency. 

Embodied Carbon Calculations: We are carrying out embodied carbon calculations on as many projects as we can.

While not always part of our scope, we are identifying projects that would benefit from an LCA to continue to create a baseline of what’s “normal” and identify clear opportunities for carbon savings. This allows us to provide carbon comparisons between structural schemes so that projects can truly be assessed on a triple-bottom-line basis (people, planet, profits). So far this has proven to be an excellent way of highlighting the impact that early design decisions have on the carbon intensity of a building, and it has resulted in fundamental design direction changes.

Study comparing a recently built 12-storey concrete building with a mass timber version. This included an embodied carbon calculation which determined a 33% reduction in embodied carbon for the mass timber option.

Education and awareness: One of the largest hurdles currently is the lack of knowledge within the industry.

We do not claim to be experts in the field of embodied carbon, but in the past few years, we have educated ourselves on the key issues and been researching solutions and reduction methods. With this, we are able to highlight the implications of design decisions or material choices to architects, contractors and clients, promoting the awareness of embodied carbon and furthering industry knowledge. We need more architects, owners and engineers doing the same to truly proliferate these considerations within the industry.

Designing efficient buildings: In some ways cost and carbon are equivalent. The more material you use, the more you pay.  

Often, the same can be said for embodied carbon. If we can design a slab to be thinner without increasing the reinforcement, then we’ve made a saving. As engineers, we must find a balance between the potential savings, ease and simplicity of construction, and what we can reasonably do with the resources we have.  

In many circumstances, structural engineers will group elements and provide a single ‘worst case’ design that can cover multiple instances. This is an efficient way for us to work, reduces uniqueness and possible confusion on site, but can result in some material inefficiencies. Use of parametric design tools can eliminate the need for grouping of elements and maximize utilization. As above, simplicity and logic in construction weighs heavily here; having multiple member sizes can result in additional materials for finishes, or could reduce benefits of prefabrication. There is a balance to be considered in all situations and we feel that we are approaching this with the correct amount of technology and engineering judgment. 

District56 Tallwood 1

Timber: Aspect is an industry leader in modern timber design. We have an extensive portfolio of mass timber projects, pushing the boundaries of what the material can achieve. This expertise has helped us guide architects and clients to create incredible buildings with significant reductions in embodied carbon. To reach climate targets,12-storey mass timber buildings will need to become a regular occurrence, and we are facilitating this as much as we can. 

We mustn’t however lose sight of what we’re trying to achieve. True embodied carbon savings will not solely come from pushing a timber agenda. It’s easy to get caught up in the prospect of an exciting “new” material, but mass timber is sometimes not the right fit. For example, in low seismic and wind areas, a multi-unit residential building under 6-storeys is probably the most carbon efficient in light wood frame. Equally, an underground parking structure or tall skyscraper will certainly favor concrete and steel.

District56 Tallwood 1, Langford BC: Celebrated as the first tall mass timber building on Vancouver Island, the first Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction (EMTC) building constructed that meets the BC Building Code, and as the second tallest mass timber building in Canada. Client: Design Build Services; Architect: Jack James; Photography: Skyscope

Industry initiatives: Aspect has committed to a number of initiatives within the industry:

 

  • We were an early signatory to SE2050, an initiative set up by the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI). This is a comprehensive program that has been designed to ensure substantive embodied carbon reductions in the design and construction of structural systems by the collective structural engineering profession. The SE2050 Commitment Program is being developed in response to the SE2050 Challenge which states: 

        All structural engineers shall understand, reduce, and ultimately eliminate embodied carbon in their projects by 2050. 

  • Through the SE2050 process, we will be able to track the embodied carbon impacts of our structural systems, assess the trends for various systems and then establish achievable reduction targets over time. This concept is modeled after the Architecture 2030 reduction targets for operational energy; SE2050 will run parallel with this for structural embodied carbon. 
  • As part of our commitment to SE2050 we have issued annual Embodied Carbon Action Plans (ECAPs). This outlines our proposed path to reducing the impact of our designs and targets for the coming year. You can see our latest ECAP report here. 

 

  • We are a member of the Carbon Leadership Forum, an online community where we can share our findings and ask questions relating to sustainability within the industry. 

         

  • Curriculum development: Mass Timber at MSU has invited us to contribute our expertise and insights to an industry team developing mass timber curriculum frameworks for the next generation of timber professionals.  
  • Other University involvement: We are working with several North American universities to provide project data for embodied carbon analysis, (with the permission from owners) and advice on embodied carbon studies. 

  • We have been working with several other industry experts to create the embodied carbon guidance document for EGBC, due to be published June 2023. 

 

Collaboration: Collaboration between all professions in the construction process is key. Owner/clients are in the position to make key decisions which can affect the end carbon value. Engineers and architects must not brush this off and be willing to present meaningful carbon reduction strategies. Contractors and subcontractors must procure and install these solutions, so their input should not be underestimated.  

To achieve targets or reductions the whole team needs to contribute, and as the process is new for most, education and knowledge sharing is critical.  

At Aspect, we try to collaborate with our competitors as much as possible – after all, Collaboration is one of our core values. In our industry, this isn’t necessarily the norm, as unique differentiators generally help win projects. The climate emergency however is an existential challenge that is much larger than any one individual or firm, and we must all work together to find the answers.   

Key collaborations include: 

  • Our published Embodied Carbon Action Plan for SE2050 outlines how we are working towards net zero and is available for anyone to view here
  • We regularly meet with other engineers to share information and discuss how we are tackling various issues as they arise.  
  • We are engaged with companies in the UK whose governing body, IStructE is several steps ahead of Canada in terms of advice and guidance to the engineering profession. 

In conclusion: 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series and that it has helped paint a clearer carbon picture. We also hope to have reinforced just how critical it is that we all must do our part – right now. We recognize and accept the significant role AEC professionals play in the climate crisis, and choose the path of proactivity. Through the steps indicated above and throughout this series, we hope to see further movement towards low-carbon construction, and we look optimistically towards positive results for the planet.  

We’d love to hear from you! Let us know if you thought this series was useful, or if you’d like to chat about the material presented. If you’re looking to make a difference but don’t know where to start, give us a call – we don’t bite. 

 


Aspect Climate Chronicles - Part 2: How to Reduce the Embodied Carbon of a Building

Welcome back! Building on Aspect Climate Chronicles Part 1, we’ll now get into how carbon is accounted for and some of the ways that we can design for a reduced carbon footprint.

How is Embodied Carbon Calculated?

There are several ways to calculate the embodied carbon of a structure or building. You can use a standalone Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment software, a plugin software as part of a 3D modelling platform, a pre-existing tool, or you can develop your own.

For maximum flexibility and relevancy, we chose to develop our own in-house tool. This is based on the IStructE guide to calculating embodied carbon, adapted for Canadian values, and specific to the structural elements.

We anticipate (and hope) that over time this tool will become obsolete as industry standards become increasingly common, but in the interim we’ve found that the flexibility of our own tool allows the most relevant, up-to-date and accurate data to inform our decisions.

The calculations are in essence very simple: volumes or weights of all the structural materials are obtained through building 3D virtual models or manual take-offs from drawings. These quantities are used to determine Global Warming Potential (GWP) for modules A1-A3, A4 and A5 (Production, Transport to Site and Construction respectively).

With these results we can compare schemes using different materials or structural layouts, identify where savings can be made, produce reports for architects, clients or contractors and begin to educate and understand how our building designs are performing.

Sample Summary page from Aspect’s Embodied Carbon Calculation report.

What are some of the key changes we can make to the design of a building to help reduce embodied carbon? 

Refurbish!

Refurbishing an existing building has a considerably better carbon footprint than demolishing and replacing it. While certainly not suitable in all circumstances, refurbishment requires a creative and forward thinking team, willing to work within the constraints that an existing building inevitably provides. Renovation usually comes with more unknowns and is often the harder path to take. Our role as structural engineers puts us in a unique position to assess ‘the potential’ of existing building stock and influence these types of decisions. There are a host of tools in our tool belt to help bring adaptive reuse projects to life. We need to be open to ideas, and clearly represent the unknowns and risks to our teams.

 

Design appropriate, rational buildings

Unnecessary complexities in design lead to complicated structural arrangements which can increase material takeoffs, and in turn, embodied carbon. Limiting changes to a structural grid about the height of a building can make a significant impact - transfer slabs take note!

Efficient, well-designed structures are one of the best ways to reduce carbon (and costs!). By bringing structural engineers on early in the design, at the massing stage, we’re in a position to at least comment on efficient structural strategies, while also layering in embodied carbon considerations. While it would be fun, by no means are we trying to play architect here, but small tweaks early on can result in massive carbon (and cost) savings later on.

Graphic above from the IStructE Guide Design for zero 

Use the Correct Materials for the Application

The energy used to process timber into a structural element is generally significantly less than a corresponding concrete or steel member, by volume. This does not however mean that timber is the best solution across the board.

Long spanning structures may be more efficient in steel than in timber, and thin pre-stressed concrete slabs may sometimes be more appropriate than thick mass timber panels with extra beams and columns. Sometimes fire rating requires an excessive sacrificial charring layer of mass timber and a thin concrete element will be more efficient in cost and carbon.

Location can have a significant impact too: remote sites produce much larger transport emissions, making lightweight construction favorable. Heavy structure in high seismic regions can dramatically increase lateral loading, causing trickle-down effects to bracing and foundations. All of these factors should be considered!

Design for Longevity

The longer a building is around the lower the relative impact of constructing it, and the less we need to build over time. A building that is demolished and rebuilt every 20 years with modern technologies and materials is far worse from a carbon standpoint than a building that is built to last for 100 years. We need to design with flexibility and with resiliency (seismic and climate) in mind. The world is ever changing, but projected changes in use, temperature, precipitation and wind can reasonably be accounted for today. Structures that self-center and that can be readily repaired (and not demo’d) after earthquakes can happen now too.

Design for Circular Economy

Designing a building to be disassembled and reused has legs. This approach allows a member (or assembly) to be repurposed as structure or raw material in a future building. While simple in concept, particular attention should be taken when contemplating more ‘permanent’ structural strategies. Examples of permanence include conventional concrete buildings, steel or timber concrete composites, or the installation of a multitude of smaller diameter fasteners that will pose a challenge to eventual remilling or visual appearance.

As low hanging fruit, connections can easily be made with bolts and screws as opposed to welds and glue.

In a time of seemingly ever changing code requirements, there are intricacies in how to properly document and instruct the professionals ‘of the future’ who’ll be repurposing these elements, but strides are being made.

 

A temporary sales center for Bosa Properties comprised of locally sourced CLT panels over glulam beams. Care was taken in the design of the structure to allow it to be removed and re-assembled for future use. Architect: Leckie Studio; Photography: Ema Peter 

Reduce the Use of Concrete or use Cement Alternatives

Cement production alone accounts for approximately 8% of global carbon dioxide emissions. Reducing concrete, and more notably cement, will help significantly lower carbon in buildings. Buildings tend to have large underground elements (parkades) and foundations that will remain concrete for the foreseeable future. When foundations and substructures cannot be designed away or reduced, or where alternative low carbon materials are not suitable in the superstructure, the use of cement alternatives should happen today.

Right now there are easy, simple, and cost-neutral (or cost-effective) solutions that can make small to moderate, but still meaningful reductions. There are also larger moves that can be made to use concrete mixes with significantly reduced embodied carbon.

As we don’t tend to put a direct and appropriate price on carbon, these moves can tend more costly, with effects on the construction process needing consideration. In some locations, concrete manufacturers are developing “Net Zero” concrete which involves the direct air capture of carbon dioxide produced from manufacturing. Though promising, this technology remains niche and likely a few years away from mass adoption.

Graphic from the Government of Canada Publication Strategies for low carbon concrete 

 

Further information on calculating embodied carbon and Whole Building Life Cycle Assessments can be found at the following resources:

Government of Canada: National guidelines for whole-building life cycle assessment

IStructE: How to calculate embodied carbon (second edition)

Stay tuned for Part 3!


Aspect Climate Chronicles - Part 1: Steps Towards Sustainability

Happy Earth Day! As we take this day to celebrate our planet and spotlight worldwide efforts in sustainability, we thought it would be a good opportunity to share our insights, and how Aspect is approaching the need for low carbon construction. Through this series of articles, we’ll highlight the challenges we face and the steps the industry needs to take – right now. 

Accountability is one of Aspect’s core values. Not only does this include accountability to all those with whom we work, but also to the planet. We must do our part to ensure that planet earth is healthy and habitable for generations to come. Sadly, with extreme weather events happening more frequently, we’re reminded of the climate crisis almost every day.

According to the UN IPCC Climate Change 2023: Synthesis Report released in March 2023, we are running out of time to effect severe climate change. To limit warming to max 1.5 °C, greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by almost 50% by 2030. Countries, regions, and municipalities around the world are heeding this call, and declaring climate emergencies alongside action plans to address this extremely urgent crisis.

What impact do buildings have?
Buildings and construction account for around 40% of energy related carbon dioxide emissions. For typical buildings, the majority of this has historically come from the operational energy (heating, cooling, electricity for appliances etc.). However, with modern efficiencies in mechanical and electrical equipment, as well as better insulation methods and thermal envelope design, the proportion of embodied to operational carbon is increasing. By 2030 it’s estimated that embodied carbon will account for 50% of the total carbon emissions over a building’s life – making it the clear target towards reaching our carbon goals.

The Canadian government has joined over 120 other countries committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 with Cities, Provinces and Territories setting ambitious targets as well. The Toronto Green Standard is an excellent example, and the City of Vancouver has set a new precedent for embodied carbon requirements as part of their own Climate Emergency Action Plan. As mentioned in this recent SABMag (Sustainable Architecture & Building Magazine) article:

 “The City of Vancouver’s initiative to monitor, regulate and ultimately codify the embodied carbon requirements for buildings is the first of its kind in Canada and provides an example for other authorities, whether municipal, provincial or federal, to follow.” 

From July 2023, the City of Vancouver will require all new 4 to 6-storey residential buildings to report and limit embodied carbon to no more than double that of a functionally equivalent baseline. Following this, all new Part 3 residential and commercial buildings will have embodied carbon reporting and reduction requirements – a major step in the drive toward more low carbon construction.

What is Embodied Carbon?
Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide (and other equivalent gases that contribute to global warming) emitted during the production, construction, and the eventual demolition of a building and its constituent parts.

A Whole Building Life Cycle Assessment can be carried out to calculate the entire environmental impact of a building which includes both embodied and operational carbon. Creating an understanding and baseline around where embodied carbon ‘hides’ within the construction process is the first step toward appropriate answers.

Graphic above from the IStructE Guide How to calculate embodied carbon (Second edition)

What can we do?
By reducing (or eliminating) embodied carbon in buildings, Structural Engineers can have a huge impact on the industry, making significant steps towards reaching net zero carbon before 2050. As demonstrated in the figure below, by focusing on low carbon design, Structural Engineers are in a unique position to make an overwhelmingly disproportionate impact on carbon emissions. We must recognize this and take it upon ourselves to advocate for, and reduce carbon emissions, to our fullest potential.

Graphic above from the IStructE Guide How to calculate embodied carbon (Second edition)

At Aspect we’re addressing this issue head on. In some situations, there are simple changes that we can make in our day-to-day work, having little-to-no impact on architecture, or cost to the client:

  • Raising the concept of limiting embodied carbon if not a predetermined goal
  • Providing early consultation on structural materiality and layouts to reduce inefficiencies
  • Being efficient with materials and using low carbon materials where appropriate (eg. light wood frame, mass timber, low carbon concrete)
  • Designing for a circular economy wherever possible

Time is of the essence and the construction industry needs to do more. We are actively trying to push our peers and the industry in the right direction, adding embodied carbon accounting requirements to building standards, advising on new guidance documents and promoting the use of embodied carbon calculations generally. Aspect is active through industry collaborations, round tables, webinars, etc. We’re making progress if our collaborators fully appreciate the subject matter and recognize the impact their work has.

In this series of articles over the next few days, we’ll be elaborating on the above, as well as the continued efforts we are making here at Aspect – stay tuned! We hope this series will drive change or perhaps just inspire someone to embark on their own journey towards carbon reduction.

 

 


Photo of a brown house facing the pool with the mountains in the background. Sun is slowly setting creating the golden hour.

Camera House Featured on Dezeen

Photo of a brown house facing the pool with the mountains in the background. Sun is slowly setting creating the golden hour.

Camera House, a recent project with our friends at Leckie Studio, has been featured on Dezeen!

Located in view of spectacular mountain ranges and natural scenery in Pemberton, BC, Camera House features dramatic windows and skylights that are meant to frame the surrounding landscape like a camera lens.

The structure is comprised of a light wood frame with steel elements atop a concrete crawlspace. Structurally, the roof is comprised of a series of 3-sided boxes allowing the architecture to open up views to the neighbouring mountain ranges through clerestories. 2x trusses were used to simplify back framing and create the vaulted interior ceiling. The project also includes a workshop building and pool shell.

Big thanks to  Leckie Studio Architecture + Design for having us on the team!

Read the full feature here.

Architect: Leckie Studio Architecture + Design 

Builder: Western Craft Contracting

Photographer: Ema Peter