Cooper embraces ‘BubbleDeck’ system

On schedule for summer of 2011 completion, construction of the new Balsillie Campus in downtown Waterloo required about 4,000 cubic metres of poured-in-place concrete. While that might seem like a lot, it’s about 30 per cent less than usual. And that’s down to the use of a groundbreaking flooring system, out of Europe.

Patented “BubbleDeck” construction technology virtually eliminates dead weight concrete from the middle of a floor slab, by incorporating large plastic air-filled bubbles – the size of basketballs – as a void. They displace concrete without sacrificing structural strength, thereby reducing overall costs while improving building designs and performance.

This marks the first use of BubbleDeck in Ontario, and the first exposure to it for Oakville’s Cooper Construction Limited. According to Don Gordon, Cooper’s vice president of operations and team leader on this project, the BubbleDeck system facilitates up to 50 per cent longer spans between columns. And because the construction does not require beams, it allows architects greater design freedom – tailor-made for the open floor designs found in educational, institutional, and commercial buildings.

“We are certain that designers of future buildings across Canada will be very
interested in case-studying and possibly adopting the use of BubbleDeck, due to the impressive results it has allowed the design team to achieve in Waterloo,” Gordon comments.

BubbleDeck enabled Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB) Architects to achieve 40-foot clear spans, essential to creating the building’s “open” space, and gave them the freedom to locate structural columns to suit the programming of the spaces.

“What sold the contract was the fact they could get the 40-foot spans they needed for the classrooms. The other option was to have great big drop concrete beams, or to have steel beam decks,” says Andrew Feener, vice
president of BubbleDeck Atlantic Canada, which holds the Canadian rights to this technology.

According to Feener, BubbleDeck adds efficiency and looks, averaging 31 per cent savings on this job. “This gives you a two-way bending process. It doesn’t need a wall or beam to support it, which makes it different from traditional precast,” he explains. “It gives you the design advantage of a two-way slab.”

But he says the biggest advantage to BubbleDeck is the reduction in overall floor thickness – to 390 millimetres, versus steel (nearly 600 mm.), or concrete (800 mm.) – adding up to substantial savings on, “the most expensive part of your building.”

Concerns about making the Balsillie Campus green also had a bearing on the
decision to go with BubbleDeck – with the cement industry responsible for 5 per cent of global emissions (according to KPMB partner Shirley Blumberg).

The BubbleDeck system also allows for less energy consumption during production, transport, and onsite activities, and the recycled plastic balls can be recovered during demolition.

Invented by Danish engineer Jorgen Breuning in 1997, BubbleDeck has been
ultilized on 400-plus projects in Europe (mostly Scandinavia). Company management says that, because it enables smaller foundation sizes, it typically reduces floor cycles by 20 to 25 per cent, and cuts construction costs by 5 to 10 per cent.

BubbleDeck Atlantic Canada has completed five projects since 2005, and is also currently working on a building at York University, in Toronto. It’s earmarked for applications in hospitals, hotels, educational facilities, and retail stores.

The three-storey, 114,000-square-foot Balsillie Campus is rising up on the former 19th Century site of Seagram Distillery – right next door to the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). This project received federal and provincial funding totalling $50 million, and that was matched by a $50 million donation from CIGI founder and chair Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research In Motion. The City of Waterloo donated the land, valued at $5 million.

Its opening will create a platform for postgraduate education in international affairs – an incubator for ideas, due to the physical proximity of related schools and research centres.

A third-generation family business, Cooper was awarded the construction management contract based on, according to Gordon, its proven track record in successfully completing high-quality, complex projects located on tightly accessed sites, immediately adjacent to existing occupied premises.

The workforce will vary from 30 to 70 tradesmen over the course of construction. This project is a contemporary interpretation of a traditional academic quad building. Architectural highlights include: a bell tower; a 250-seat auditorium/lecture hall; café; informal meeting spaces with fireplaces; an inner landscaped courtyard; a “living” green roof; a birch tree patio across
from local restaurants; and a tunnel to link future residences.

The building also incorporates such unique features as: structured BubbleDeck “box” windows; limestone floors; wood ceilings; radiant cooling and heating; in-floor lighting; occupancy sensors to control lighting; and wireless access throughout.

“This will definitely be a landmark building,” Gordon adds. “It has been
designed by KPMB Architects to prominently stand in the company of three Governor General award-winning buildings – the Centre for International Governance Innovation, the Perimeter Institute, and the Clay and Glass
Museum. The overriding design vision was that this building must be a vibrant sanctuary for creative thought.”

This article appeared in the November 4, 2010 edition of the Mississauga Business times and is reproduced with the permission of the publisher.

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