By Natalie Tarini
Communication Manager and Canadian Wood Council Secretary
When we’re young, we’re encouraged to dream big. But somewhere throughout the process of growing-up, we begin to add limitations to the stretch of our imagination.
In nature people gasp in amazement at the sight of a strong and towering tree that has stood the test of time; but are more apt to shake their heads in disbelief when the topic of tall wood buildings is broached – why is that?
Tall wood buildings are not a new concept – 1400 years ago, wood-frame pagodas 19-storeys tall were built in highly seismic areas of Japan, and remain standing to this day. With advanced construction technologies and modern mass timber products such as cross-laminated timber, glued-laminated timber, and structural composite lumber, building tall with wood is a viable building option that is gaining traction.
One of the best ways to learn, is to follow by example. With the successful completion of tall wood buildings around the world (9 and 10-storey buildings in Australia, Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, a 14 storey building just being completed in Norway and a 24 storey building to start construction in fall 2015 in Vienna, Austria), tall wood is gaining momentum with design communities in densely populated areas where land for construction is limited. In a country that is experiencing its own challenges with urban intensification and greenhouse gas emission levels, tall wood buildings would seem the obvious choice for Canadians. And yet, there is a lack of education associated with wood construction that hinders the appreciation for the research, technology, and more importantly, the successful examples of tall wood buildings, that prove that wood is a practical option for tall building construction.
The Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC) in Prince George, British Columbia, is presently one of the world’s tallest modern all-timber institutional buildings, at 29.5 m – consisting of 6 storeys with a mezzanine and penthouse. “It’s one thing to read a report with numbers that prove that this is possible,” explains Etienne Lalonde, VP of Market Development for the Canadian Wood Council. “But there’s something more innate about witnessing a live demonstration and experiencing the benefits that this type of construction has to offer – seeing is believing.” Designed by Michael Green Architecture, the WIDC building is about celebrating wood as an aesthetic and sustainable material. To demonstrate the opportunity for similar projects, the WIDC’s design focuses on elements that could be easily replicated rather than serving as a showcase – integrating cross-laminated timber floor panels, glulam columns and beams, and mass timber walls that beautifully display the possibilities that exist for wood cohesion throughout a building.
The benefits of wood construction span beyond durability and aesthetics. In a society that is growing evermore environmentally conscious, there is a case for wood construction and the reduced impacts it has as a building material on the environment. As the only renewable building material, trees sequester harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) from the surrounding atmosphere and wood products release less carbon during the manufacturing stage when compared to other building materials. An example of this environmental benefit can be found at the Mountain Equipment Co-op building in Vancouver, British Columbia. This project used 2,394 cubic meters of lumber and sheathing – for a total potential carbon benefit of 5,393 metric tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent to taking 1,030 cars off of the road for a year or the energy that it takes to operate a home for 458 years. “Today, wood structures continue to deliver as they have in the past, but our understanding of wood has now broadened to include the environmental sustainability benefits and a new found appreciation for emerging wood technologies” explains Michael Giroux, President of the Canadian Wood Council. “The sky’s the limit, and we’re going there.”
Canada has a long and rich history with wood construction. It is now time for the perceptions to catch-up with the scientific advancements that have and continue to be made for wood products. Tall wood buildings is a vision that benefits all of us from an economical and environmental point of view. When it comes to pushing the boundaries of your imagination, sometimes all you have to do to find inspiration is to look up at the trees!