Proposed 10 Storey Building in Prince George BC

VANCOUVER - B.C. is moving ahead with plans to build what is expected to be the tallest wood building in North America and possibly the world.

The proposed 10-storey Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George will become a test case for creating a value-added forest products industry around tall wood building construction methods that would differ radically from the way traditional mid-rise and even highrise buildings are constructed.

Jobs Minister Pat Bell said this week that within 30 days, the province will seek qualified firms to design and construct the building out of engineered wood beam products instead of traditional concrete and steel beams. The province has already received 34 expressions of interest.

The wood building would be the tallest in B.C., ``likely North America and possibly the world,'' Bell said.

The plan comes at the same time a new study produced for the Wood Enterprise Coalition by Vancouver architect Michael Green and several others suggests engineered wood skyscrapers of up to 30 storeys can be safely built using this new wood technology.

In an interview, Green said he expects that within five years, buildings between 10 and 20 storeys will be built in B.C. using any one of a number of laminated engineered wood products. But for that to happen, the province needs to change its building code. The code now limits wood buildings to six storeys, but that is based on wood-frame construction methods using studs and wood cladding.

Green's study says laminated wood beams and slabs - which can range up to 1.2 metres (four feet) wide, 18 centimetres (seven inches) thick and 19.5 metres (64 feet) long - have similar properties to concrete and steel and can be used to replace them in many cases. The resulting building would be lighter, comparable in cost and far more environmentally friendly than steel and concrete.

The buildings would be more fire-resistant than wood-frame buildings, meeting the same requirements as concrete and steel buildings.

``There are a lot of people and nations starting to look at these ideas. But right now our report is the first to show how to do it in a predominantly wood way at the scale we are talking about,'' Green said. ``It is an extremely unique moment where Canada is really leading the world in this conversation.''

Green said he was motivated to propose tall wood buildings as a way to tackle climate change. Wood acts as a carbon sink, locking in carbon dioxide as long as it doesn't rot or burn.

``Concrete production is responsible for five to eight per cent of the world's carbon emissions. Steel production eats up four per cent of the world's energy.''

Manufacturing engineered wood products does require some energy, but the carbon footprint is less than other forms of production.

``We have been looking at solutions to make our buildings perform better, and that is important. But we really haven't stepped back and said, `Are we building our buildings with the right material in the first place?' ''

He said the cost of building a 12-storey wood building in Vancouver would be the same as for concrete, at about $283 per square foot. A 20-storey wood tower would cost marginally more than concrete, at $300 per square foot versus $294.



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