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‘Tall wood’ advocate joins Prince George project

A digital rendering of the Wood Innovation and Design Centre to be constructed in Prince George, B.C., March 22, 2013.

One of the world's leading advocates of "tall wood" – a movement that seeks to challenge the dominance of concrete and steel in construction – is part of a team chosen to put up the highest wooden building in North America.

The Wood Innovation and Design Centre, which will start to rise in Prince George shortly, is a British Columbia government project intended to showcase new methods for building with wood. It could pave the way for a construction revolution that would see wood buildings as tall as 30 storeys.

"I think this building is one of the most important wood buildings in North American history," architect Michael Green said Friday, shortly after B.C. Jobs Minister Pat Bell announced the selection of the preferred proponent for the $25-million project. "I think what it is, is the first step for us here in Canada, and North America wide, to enter the arena of tall buildings built of wood," said Mr. Green, whose Vancouver-based company, Michael Green Architecture, is part of a larger team led by PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc.

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He said that at 27 1/2 metres it will be North America's tallest wood building. Because of design features, including a mezzanine and a high floor-to-floor ratio, it will be six storeys, but will stand about as high as a nine-storey building.

That's only a mid-size structure in most cities, but Mr. Green said it is tall enough to show off the new techniques the contractors have developed, using mass timber panels to reach new heights for wood construction. They call the approach FFTT – Finding the Forest Through the Trees – and it allows for tall wooden buildings that meet all the design and fire safety standards of steel and concrete structures.

Mr. Green said tall wood buildings are being planned elsewhere in the world and he feels the Prince George project will put Canada in the race.

"There's a competition starting between countries with big [wooden] buildings in the U.K. and Australia, and it's a great opportunity for Canada to show what we can do," he said. "So it's a really important building. I think it is [a] pretty historic day in the construction industry in Canada."

Construction is to start this spring, and the building is to be finished by the end of June, 2014.

"I think one of the great things for the community of Prince George is that this will forever be the first of its kind in North America," Mr. Green said. "As other communities build higher, and Vancouver will hopefully be one of them, Prince George and this building will hold that unique distinction [of being the first]."

The project, which became mired in controversy recently when irregularities were alleged concerning who made the short list for the bidding process, has long been promised by the provincial government. The building will house wood-related research facilities for the University of Northern British Columbia, as well as office space for industry and possibly government.

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The PCL team is made up of several design and construction companies, including Michael Green Architecture and Equilibrium Consulting. Both firms are at the forefront of the movement to use wood to build skyscrapers. Last year Mr. Green published a major report, The Case for Tall Wood Buildings, which argued for wood structures up to 30 storeys high.

"For the last century there has been no reason to challenge steel and concrete as the essential structural materials of large buildings," wrote Mr. Green, who also voiced his views in TED Talks. "Climate change now demands that we do." He said wood is a naturally produced building material "that is renewable, durable and strong" and which is a good alternative to concrete and steel.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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