Wooden Heights: North America’s Tallest Timber Building

WIDC Building

WIDC Building

Timber is set to to add to the skyline in British Columbia (BC), Canada once again with construction due to commence on North America’s tallest timber building, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC).

The WIDC has partnered with architect Michael Green and his firm MGA to develop the 27.5-metre building, which will contribute to the urban revitalisation of downtown Prince George.

From the outside, the six-storey centre will look more like seven storeys due to the ground floor being doubled in height to allow for the installation of large solar gain windows that will create an open feeling to the space.

“We really wanted to make the ground floor of this building about the community and how when you’re walking down the street, you feel like you were drawn inside,” Green said of his desire to connect the centre to its outside city.

“You could look in the windows, you could see the demonstration of wood use inside the building, the students moving inside the building. At night, with the building’s interior lights on, the wood will really glow.”

Green is renowned for his award-winning work on the terminal at Prince George Airport, which is also constructed primarily of wood and for his study, The Case for Tall Wood Buildings, which demonstrates that wood is a viable construction material.

Cross Laminated Timber

Cross Laminated Timber. Image Source: National Resources Canada

“Wood is the most significant building material we use today that is grown by the sun. When harvested responsibly, wood is arguably one of the best tools architects and engineers have for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing carbon in our buildings,” the study reads.

Green touted the importance of natural materials in an interview with TreeHugger.

“The Earth grows our food; The earth can grow our homes. It’s an ethical change that we have to go through,” he said.

The architecture industry is continuing to undergo a wood revolution as designers source more cost-effective and sustainable alternatives to concrete and steel.

According to Green’s report, “concrete production represents roughly five per cent of world carbon dioxide emissions, the dominant green house gas. In essence the production and transportation of concrete represents more than five times the carbon footprint of the airline industry as a whole.”

In 2009, the Wood First Bill was introduced in BC. That act required wood to be the primary building material in all new publicly funded buildings, in a manner consistent with the British Columbia Building Code.

Michael Green

Michael Green. Photograph by: Ward Perrin , Vancouver Sun

Other than the concrete foundation, 100 per cent of the WIDC building’s primary structure will be made of wood and Green has stated that using wood instead of concrete will reduce the building’s carbon footprint in a way that is the equivalent of removing 500 cars from the road.

The $25 million building is due to be completed within 16 months and PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc (PCL) has been selected to design and build the centre, which will stand as an iconic landmark.

The building will aim to showcase – and encourage industry conversation around – the possibilities of wood in building and architecture while also boosting BC’s lumber industry.

The WIDC building will be built of load-bearing engineered wood products sourced and produced locally, including glue laminated columns, beams, cross-laminated timber and laminated veneer timber.

The wooden framing system of the structure will allow for a larger glass facade, which will encourage natural light and offer extensive Prince George views. Mass timber panels will make up the floor and ceilings, along with the core of the elevator.  Inside, the centre will provide spaces for offices, wood research facilities and classes and will house the University of Northern British Columbia Masters Engineering program.

wooden skylines

The move to wooden skylines
Image: Arabian Gazette

“Our WIDC design is repeatable, elegant and cost effective,” Green said.

While the building’s height is impressive, Australia still holds the title for the World’s Tallest in Lend Lease’s ten-storey, 32-metre Forté Apartment building in Melbourne.

Forté opened earlier this year and earned a five star Green Star rating for its 760 panel cross-laminated timber construction and sustainable initiatives throughout the structure. Wood took precedence over concrete for its façade and its walls, floors and ceilings were also made of solid timber.

By Angela Fedele
Top Image Source: Design Boom, © Michael Green Architecture
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