Buildings up to 30 storeys possible, award-winning architect tells conference

BY RANDY BOSWELL, POSTMEDIA NEWS A study funded by the B.C. government to help promote the province’s forestry sector will conclude that buildings as tall as 30 storeys could be made almost entirely out of wood, says an award-winning Vancouver architect leading the research.

Michael Green, who detailed his vision for the world’s first “timber skyscraper” during a keynote address last week at a Green Cities conference in Australia, told Postmedia News on Monday that a provincially supported study due to be released later this month will show that such buildings can be cost-saving as well as both fire-and earthquakesafe, and that Canada is ideally positioned to lead an emerging global “race” to reinvent the highrise construction industry -with wood challenging steel and concrete as the ideal building material.

“The exciting thing is, from an engineering point of view, we think we have something that is on track to be able to design -comfortably -20storey buildings,” said Green, a partner in the Vancouver firm McFarlane Green Biggar Architecture + Design Inc.

“And certainly, we believe, quite reasonably, we’ll be able to stretch that to 30 storeys.”

A nine-storey building in Britain now the world’s tallest wooden structure. Green said a 10-storey project in Australia, a 17-storey building in Norway and a 30-storey structure in Austria have been proposed recently.

The Green-led Canadian study is a “pre-feasibility” analysis of what could become the world’s tallest wooden highrise -a 12-storey structure envisioned for an undisclosed Vancouver location. The study is being funded as part of an initiative launched last year by B.C. Forests Minister Pat Bell.

“It is our understanding that based on preliminary research results, Michael Green thinks that it may be possible to build a 30-storey building using wood-hybrid construction,” ministry spokeswoman Vivian Thomas told Postmedia News.

“We’re looking forward to receiving and reviewing the results of MGB’s research before deciding on next steps,” she added. “In April 2009, B.C. amended its building code to allow six-storey wood frame construction -the previous building height limit for wood frame construction was four storeys.”

In announcing the $1.75-million creation of the Wood Enterprise Coalition in April, Bell highlighted the province’s particularly rich endowment of forest resources and pledged the seed funding “to promote the use of wood in commercial and institutional construction.

The head of one of the coalition partners, the provincial marketing organization WoodWORKS! BC, hailed the initiative as another sign of the “renewed interest and renaissance in building with wood.”

WoodWORKS! B.C. executive director Mary Tracey said at the time the fund would help “build momentum in the ‘Wood First’ movement in B.C., across Canada and around the world.”

Among the first grants disbursed by the coalition was to Green and his MGB Architect colleagues, who won a top North American design award last year for their eye-popping creation of a retail restroom in Vancouver’s Gastown district with walls made from 5,000 paperback novels.

Green said Canada should be a leader in developing wood-highrise projects and expertise, and points to recent innovations in construction techniques that allow bigger, stronger modules of wood to be used in erecting much taller structures than previously imagined.

Vancouver’s potential prototype wooden highrise would demonstrate the ecological benefits, economic value and structural strength of wood-based construction, he said.

“My dream is to build a skyscraper ith a wood structure,” Green also rote in a recent essay. “That coment usually brings a bit of rumble rom the back of the room as it may eem absurd in today’s wood context, ut today’s context will not be with us or long. New engineered products are hanging the scale of our dreams.”

In an interview from Melbourne, Green said the environmental benefits of using wood for highrise construction -especially in a country such as Canada, where sustainable forestry management is widely practised -would, in the near future, be the key competitive advantage over carbonintensive steel and concrete.

“They just don’t make them like they used to” applies more to big wooden beams more than almost any other home building material out there – gigantic old-growth trees are few and far between these days, and softwood like Douglas Fir (while not technically exotic) can be hard to come by.

Found for sale via various salvage operations, the core structure is composed of huge reclaimed beams that measure as much as a few feet wide – making traditional 2x4s and other dimensional lumber look a little small by comparison. Built-ins are also made of colorful recycled woods, while primary walls and floors were created of smooth concrete to create contrast.
Car decking and other lower-grade, solid-wood salvage fills in the various gaps, carefully sorted by length to fit the odd angles of the wall and roof lines. It may not be as pretty as its popular counterpart species – maple, pine, cedar or cherry – but it has a raw and rugged look that works well.
The net effect is a home that seems to grow right out of the ground, like roots of some ancient tree. The interior features a playful contrast between the rough and dark used wood and brand-new appliances, white-painted surfaces, modern amenities and contemporary furniture.

If you really boil this design by Omer Arbel down to the basics, it is successful for one reason above all others: there is no attempt to pretend that the house itself is old – the aged wood is used to balance with new shapes and forms that are of a distinctly contemporary vintage.
Source: Dorknob

Much has been discussed on the merits of the LEED program in the last month.  Even renowned architect Frank Gehry strongly criticized LEED certification, claiming that it was more of a political issue and not based on performance.

According to an opinion piece in the New York Times by Alec Appelbaum, “The LEED program, which awards points for incorporating eco-friendly material and practices into buildings’ design and construction, has led to a sea change in the industry, introducing environmental awareness into everything from regulatory processes to rents.

But while the standard is well-intentioned, it is also greatly misunderstood. Put simply, a building’s LEED rating is more like a snapshot taken at its opening, not a promise of performance. Unless local, state and federal agencies do their part to ensure long-term compliance with the program’s ideals, it could end up putting a shiny green stamp on a generation of unsustainable buildings.”

We’d love to hear what you think about all the negative press LEED has been receiving lately.

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