City of Vancouver to permit tall wood buildings up to 12 storeys

May 26 2020, 1:45 pm

Amendments to the City of Vancouver’s building bylaw will allow developers to pursue mass timber construction of up to 12 storeys for residential and commercial uses.

City council is expected to approve the city staff’s recommended changes on Wednesday, following the recommendations of a staff report that align with the changes last year to the BC building code and the forthcoming changes to the 2020 national building code.

Previously, mass timber construction was limited to just six storeys, but there were some exceptions, specifically the 2017-built, 18-storey UBC Tall Wood Residence, which acted as a government-supported industry pilot to prove the feasibility and benefits of such wooden structures. Up until last year, it was the tallest structure of its kind in the world.

Ever since BC enacted its changes, 13 other municipalities have adopted the building code changes, including Richmond, Surrey, and North Vancouver City.

“Accepting taller mass timber construction within the Building By-law will make it easier to build with low carbon materials, supports future housing affordability, and represents an important first step in reducing our carbon pollution from construction,” reads a city staff report.

“It will also keep Vancouver aligned with several neighbouring jurisdictions that have opted-in to provincial regulations to allow taller mass timber construction. Furthermore, it will be aligned with coming federal code changes that ensure that occupants and neighbours remain safe.”

Common wooden construction materials for such taller structures are glued-laminated timber, also known as glulam, and cross-laminated timber, which are engineered wood products manufactured off-site and delivered to the construction sites. These laminated engineered structural components form the components for floors, walls, columns, and beams.

As much of the work is already done in factories, this reduces on-site construction noise and activity, including truck traffic and the required number of workers. For this reason, overall construction for mass timber structures is also much faster than conventional methods.

Wood construction supports BC’s forestry and manufacturing industries, which were struggling even prior to the current global crisis.

When it comes to design benefits, such structures can reduce “embodied pollution” of construction by 25% to 45% or more, and as wood is a natural insulator such materials help buildings become more energy efficient.

With fire safety, mass timber is “significantly more fire resistant than light timber construction,” and it is encapsulated to meet the minimum fire protection performance required.

Mass timber designs are also deemed to be easier and more cost-effective for higher seismic standards, given that mass timber is five times lighter than concrete, and its modular components are easier and quicker to repair after an earthquake.

These taller structures are a hybrid, consisting of a concrete lower platform and core that provides seismic stability and encases elevator and emergency staircase shafts.

2102 Keith Drive Vancouver Nature's Path Foods

Artistic rendering of the new Nature’s Path office building at 2102 Keith Drive, Vancouver. (DIALOG)

2102 Keith Drive Vancouver

Artistic rendering of the concrete cores of the new Nature’s Path office building at 2102 Keith Drive, Vancouver. (DIALOG)

A number of sizeable mass timber buildings are already planned or in the pipeline, including the approval of Nature’s Path’s new 10-storey headquarters next to VCC-Clark Station.

At the northeast corner of Burrard Street and Davie Street, a 17-storey social housing tower with the new home of the QMUNITY LGBTQ community centre is proposed as a hybrid mass timber tower.

Another 11-storey social housing building at the northeast corner of the intersection of Kingsway and Windsor Street is proposed to feature mass timber components.

On the Broadway Corridor near SkyTrain’s future South Granville Station, an ambitious proposal for a mixed-use residential and commercial development up to 40 storeys in height would be the world’s tallest wood tower by a wide margin.

“Vancouver is also becoming a global leader in the design and construction of mass timber buildings, supporting local jobs in architecture, engineering, and construction services,” adds the city staff report.

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