How BC became a leader in mass timber construction, according to experts

Jan 21 2022, 5:18 pm

With climate change at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we’re constantly looking for ways we can do better for our planet.

And in a world where development is unavoidable, it’s essential to find sustainable strategies for how to best utilize our resources — cue, mass timber. 

Using the naturally occurring resources growing in our own backyard may be the most eco-friendly choice. A building material that uses modern technology to glue, nail, or dowel wood products together in layers, mass timber creates large and strong structural panels, posts, and beams. It’s durable, sustainable, fire safe, and BC is leading in its construction.

The first step in protecting our earth is educating ourselves on how to do so, so we spoke with timber experts Robert Malczyk, principal at Timber Engineering Inc. and Nate Bergen, project development manager at Kinsol Timber Systems, about how BC became a leader in mass timber construction — and why it’s a win for our province’s eco-impact.

Why mass timber

VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre (Nic Lehoux/naturallywood.com)

It’s no wonder that the global demand for mass timber is on the rise — wood is the only major building material that grows naturally.

Mass timber has a lower impact on air and water pollution than other commonly used building materials (such as steel and concrete) and is earthquake safe and fire-resistant.

The lightweight nature of the wood also reduces foundation requirements for buildings, creating fewer costs and allowing for more prefabrication offsite (anything for a quieter worksite, right?) Not to mention wood is beautiful and good for your personal health and well-being.

“Aside from all the performance advantages of mass timber, some of the biggest benefits come from the ability to pre-plan and prefabricate mass timber buildings. We go from digitally pre-planning our work, prefabricating the different parts of the building to constructing on-site. People who are new to building with mass timber are often astonished to see the building elements arrive on-site and pretty quickly the building is going up,” Nate Bergen tells Daily Hive.

“This know-how is in demand all over the world — BC is really seen as the hub of North America when it comes to mass timber architecture, engineering, and installation.”

Exciting new developments

Rendering of 837 Beatty Street Rehabilitation and Addition, a century-old historic timber warehouse to be topped with a four-storey mass timber addition. (office of mcfarlane biggar architects + designers inc./naturallywood.com)

BC is leading in many inspiring mass timber developments, such as Prototype in Vancouver, the 1 Lonsdale building in North Vancouver, or the Burrard Exchange. As long as wood structures are taken care of overtime, they last — and they’re stunning.

“Most people want to be surrounded by wood,” Malczyk tells Daily Hive. “We crave to be around natural materials like wood that bring so much warmth.”

Installing CLT panels by crane at Bayview Elementary School (Wade Comer Photography/naturallywood.com)

From projects like the Nita Lake Lodge and the Richmond Olympic Oval to community centreswineries, health centres and schools, wood is not only dominating BC’s environmental landscape but its urban scene as well.

“Aside from mass timber buildings being beautiful, the [construction of the buildings] is also quieter which can really be a big benefit when building in urban areas like Vancouver,” says Bergen. “Along with speed, this approach minimizes disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood.”

The story behind the phenomenon

Harvesting in southern interior (Candace Kenyon/naturallywood.com)

Because of BC’s healthy and diverse forests in addition to manufacturing and forest management experts, our province has been at the centre of innovating with mass timber innovation since the beginning — starting with heavy timber buildings, some of which are over 100 years old. Now, over half of Canada’s mass timber buildings are here in BC.

And with 10% of the world’s certified forests located in BC, we have the resources to invest in this sustainable building solution.

Malczyk belongs to a rare breed of specialized timber engineers. He studied at UBC under a highly regarded professor and practicing engineer, Borg Madsen — inventor of the now widely used timber rivet connection system. Along with Ricardo Foschi, Malczyk’s mentors were pioneers in the BC timber industry.

Earth Sciences Building at UBC (KK Law/naturallywood.com)

“In the early days, a core group of mass timber designers and engineers were lucky enough to convince the local industry to take a chance on mass timber in BC,” recalls Malczyk. “It was a no-brainer because of our vast timber supply.” It was big projects like the Earth Sciences Building at UBC that got the momentum going for using this building material.

BC immediately took a leading role in international mass timber development, known as a place where companies and professionals were acting as industry leaders. “When international architects, designers, and engineers want to learn about mass timber design and innovation, they come to BC, and it’s because we have that reputation,” says Malczyk.

“So many communities in BC are founded on forestry and want to build landmark buildings and community hubs with local wood products and use local expertise, labour, and manufacturers,” says Bergen.

Malahat Skywalk (Kinsol Timber)

By responsibly using resources in BC to support development “we can minimize the transport, and lower energy expenditures,” says Malczyk. “We should lead by this example of how the behaviour is changing towards more sustainable thinking and building.”

To learn more about mass timber and browse stunning developments, visit naturally:wood’s website.

Daily Hive

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