When the 95.9 foot (29.25 metre) high $25 million Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC) in downtown Prince George, BC was completed this fall, it instantly became the world’s tallest modern all-wood building. Although only six storeys, the WIDC’s high ceilings make it as tall as most 10-storey high-rises.
The WIDC building is part of a wave of new Tall Wood buildings all over the world – and challenging the conventional wisdom of how high wooden buildings can rise. Tall Wood structures rely on engineered wood products called “mass timber,” which features multiple thin layers of wood that are glued to form solid panels and beams.
The WIDC pilot project received permission to work outside the provisions of BC’s building code, which five years ago upped the limit for conventional “stick-built” wood frame construction from four to six storeys. Today there are nearly 80 multi-unit six-storey projects under construction across BC. In September 2014, Ontario announced it would enact code changes to allow the use of wood-frame construction in buildings of up to six-storeys. Although they are conventional wood frame and not Tall Wood structures, they reflect an increasing move to using wood for its environmental benefits.
While concrete emits nearly its own weight in carbon dioxide during production, the raw material for tall wood buildings literally grows on trees, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere as it does so. Responsibly harvested wood is naturally renewing and, when a building is finally torn down, can be recycled or burned for energy.
There are many more innovative Tall Wood structures higher than six storeys in the works for Canada. In 2013, the Canadian Wood Council invited Canadian developers, institutions, organizations and design teams to propose new approaches to designing and building high-rise wood demonstration projects. The CWC and Natural Resources Canada are currently reviewing short-listed submissions.
The successful proponents can get a helping hand from the recently released Technical Guide for the Design and Construction of Tall Wood Buildings in Canada (2014) commissioned by FP Innovations, a not-for-profit organization that specializes in creating scientific solutions in support of the Canadian forest sector’s global competitiveness.
The Guide was created to support experienced design and construction teams in undertaking Tall Wood projects. It provides the concepts and background to questions that inevitably arise when designing beyond the height and area limits prescribed by the National Building Code of Canada. The section of the guide dealing with Project and Construction costing was prepared by BTY Group. We have also contributed to multiple studies on costing Tall Wood projects as well as conducting cost comparisons on Tall Wood vs. comparable concrete and steel construction.