Jan. 26, 2023

Inspired by early life experiences, UCalgary engineering student wins TimberFever gold

Reyvileen Soriano hopes to one day design a more affordable net-zero home
Reyvileen Soriano, front row, right, poses for a photo with team members inside their Ascend Garden Pavilion.
Reyvileen Soriano, front row, right, poses for a photo with team members inside their Ascend Garden Pavilion.

Reyvileen Soriano is using her family story as inspiration to build her career — literally.

She remembers her mother working multiple low-paying jobs to keep a roof over their heads after they immigrated to Canada from the Philippines. Despite Soriano’s mom having an academic degree in their home country, she struggled to keep up with the utility bills and mortgage payments kept piling up.

But the family persevered, and Soriano is now a fifth-year civil engineering student in the Schulich School of Engineering, taking full advantage of her education by getting involved with as many projects as she can.

Aside from her studies, Soriano has been a co-op student with ATCO, volunteered with the Solar Car Team, and has taken part in several events including the Troitsky Bridge Building Competition in 2021.

She recently added to that list by taking part in TimberFever 2022 at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU), where her team took home the championship and a $1,500 grand prize.

A different kind of garden

TimberFever is an annual competition where teams of engineering and architecture students use wood to build structures to better their communities.

This year’s design topic was Community Garden Pavilion, with each group having their own unique vegetable to consider in their design and construction work. Over the course of two-and-a-half days, the teams were also able to access the expertise of mentors and professionals to help with any questions they might have had.

Soriano was on a team with Asim Ahmad from the University of Toronto and Dana Kim, Isaak Toleff and Jennifer Jia Yi Zhu of TMU. Their project, Ascend Garden Pavilion, was designed with the intention of strengthening the connections between people and gardening, while growing carrots.

“We wanted to connect our guests with the experience of caring for a garden with a ladder-like structure to provide different access levels to the carrot planters,” says Kim. “The ladder also promotes the growth of the carrots, as it allows full sun to hit the plants and rainfall to trickle down to all of the planters equally, using fabric to retain moisture in the boxes.”

The pavilion also featured several seats, sunlight shading, a StopGap ramp and space for wheelchair users.

Rising above the challenges

Soriano, who was one of a handful of UCalgary students who took part in the competition, says the groups faced limits on the number of tools and materials they could use, so they had to think things through carefully before committing to each step along the way.

Her team faced another challenge when, as they began the construction phase, a team member had to leave for medical reasons, forcing the rest to become even more efficient with their time and planning.

“When our architectural team members proposed any new ideas while in construction, we would decide as a team if it was a good idea and if we had the resources and time to get it done,” Soriano says. “We also had to think of a way to keep the structure strong and stable despite any changes and additions.”

When their time was up, the team took a step back and realizes what had been accomplished in a short amount of time.

“We discussed that, even if we didn’t win, we had the best time working with each other and that we were proud of our work,” Soriano says.

Right before they announced the winner, our team held our hands together and, when we found out we won, I had mixed emotions of shock, happiness and excitement.

Building a sustainable future

After hugs and goodbyes, the team members went their separate ways.

For Soriano, she is thankful for the opportunity to have met some great people and work together on something that was, at the end of the day, appreciated.

“My biggest takeaway from the competition is learning the importance of asking for help,” she says. “It requires a team to design and build the structure, and we put our resources to good use to build something we could all be proud of.”

The experience was also in-line with her future goals of eventually designing and building affordable net-zero homes to one day help families in need.

“With sustainability in mind, I’m driven by the possibility of getting the costs down on net-zero homes,” Soriano says. “If they become more available, I believe it would help families like mine bring down their monthly living costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions contributed by homes and utility usage.”