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Canada taking command in the charge on tall wood structures, says analyst

The gates are starting to open for “a big opportunity in wood” around the world with the construction of tall buildings and Canada is among the countries leading the charge, says a business analyst with FPInnovations.

 

"There are multiple projects globally and right here in Canada that are changing the way we think about building taller with wood," said Ben Romanchych, who is with the not-for-profit Canadian company that does various research and development initiatives in the forestry sector.

 

At 18 storeys high, Brock Commons, a student residence at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, is currently the tallest wood building in the world, although others under construction or being proposed in Europe will soar above its height.

 

Romanchych, who gave a presentation at the Tall Wood Symposium recently in Toronto on Opportunities for Tall Wood in Canada, said while many provincial building codes now permit construction of all-wood midrise buildings, the next step is to go higher.

 

Canada has seen a few wood buildings soar above six storeys under special code provisions but more opportunities are on the horizon, he said.

There is a big demand for multi-family residential towers in Canada, he said, and the economics of wood make it well suited for heights of up to 12 storeys.

Furthermore, Romanchych said studies show that when used for office interiors, wood has "a positive impact" on occupant productivity. As well, it offers a sense of well-being when used in hospitals and schools, studies indicate.

Unlike Ontario, where the province's cabinet has to agree with a code revision before it can be passed, B.C. only requires the approval of one cabinet minister for code adoption, said Jarrett Hutchinson, director of building regulations with the Province of B.C.

Hutchinson gave a presentation at the symposium on B.C.'s approval process at the recently completed Brock Commons.

The student residence is a hybrid structure, comprised of 17 storeys of mass timber on a one-storey concrete podium. It has two concrete cores.

Hutchinson said developing codes and standards is a "very different experience than trying to solve one set of problems (at a specific project) where a lot of the variables are narrowed down," which was the case at the UBC building.

B.C. code authorities had "a great deal of comfort" after reviewing the design of Brock Commons, examining the team's qualifications and assessing other aspects of the proposal, he said. The two-storey "proof-of-concept" mockup of the building "also gave us a lot of comfort," he told delegates.

Hutchinson said B.C.'s regulatory structure allows for "site specific" regulations with approval by one cabinet minister.

"The future that we envision is that we can facilitate more innovative buildings in this manner and move the needle when it comes to the baseline (building) code," Hutchinson said.

Among a flurry of tall wood buildings proposed or underway around the world, the tallest currently is the 24-storey HoHo Building in Vienna, Austria. It is slated for completion this year.

 

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