Race on to build tallest wood build­ing

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Der­rick PENNER

For Dutch ar­chi­tect Do Janne Ver­meulen, the “space race” to build the world’s tallest tim­ber-based build­ing is no longer a mat­ter of pride, but more of a sus­tain­able im­per­a­tive.

“I don’t think it mat­ters who gets the high­est first,” Ver­meulen said fol­low­ing her pre­sen­ta­tion to a sus­tain­able-build­ing con­fer­ence in Vancouver.

“What’s in­ter­est­ing to see is that it helps to get at­ten­tion for tall wood build­ings,” which is the im­por­tant part “be­cause if you get one, you might get two, if you get 10 you might get 20 and with 20, you might get 100.”

Ver­meulen’s Am­s­ter­dam-based firm, Team V Ar­chi­tec­ture, is in that race with its de­sign for Haut, a 73-me­tre (240-feet­tall) hy­brid mass-tim­ber res­i­den­tial build­ing in a new, sus­tain­abil­ity fo­cused res­i­den­tial district of that city.

And mul­ti­ply­ing the num­bers of build­ings de­fined as sus­tain­able, se­ques­ter­ing car­bon in re­new­able wood con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als, is be­com­ing more im­por­tant at a time when warn­ings about cli­mate change are be­com­ing more stark.

Ver­meulen spoke Tues­day in a key­note ad­dress to Wood Works B.C.’s annual Wood So­lu­tions con­fer­ence, which is do­ing dou­ble-duty this year as a week-long gath­er­ing of in­ter­na­tional pol­icy mak­ers in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Pas­sive­house Canada and the United Na­tions Eco­nomic Com­mis­sion for Europe’s Com­mit­tee on Forests and the For­est In­dus­try.

The UN In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, in an Oc­to­ber re­port, warned of ir­re­versible changes if peo­ple don’t take im­me­di­ate and sub­stan­tial re­duc­tions in their green­house-gas emis­sions be­yond what they are tak­ing now.

If peo­ple don’t, they are court­ing cli­mate tem­per­a­ture in­creases in as lit­tle as 12 years that would speed up the melt­ing of sea ice, cause droughts, famine and flood that are worse than pre­vi­ously an­tic­i­pated.

Re­spond­ing, in Bri­tish Columbia, means im­ple­ment­ing ini­tia­tives such as the prov­ince’s En­ergy Step Code, an op­tional set of en­ergy-ef­fi­ciency stan­dards, or the Canadian Build Smart stan­dards, ac­cord­ing to con­fer­ence or­ga­niz­ers.

With wood rec­og­nized as a low-car­bon op­tion, “it is im­per­a­tive to of­fer tech­ni­cal knowl­edge through learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in wood prod­ucts and build­ing sys­tems,” said Lynn Em­bury-Wil­liams, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Wood Works B.C.

In past years, the Wood So­lu­tions con­fer­ence has high­lighted lo­cal van­guard projects such as the all-tim­ber Wood In­no­va­tion and De­sign Cen­tre in Prince Ge­orge, which is now home to UNBC and Emily Carr Univer­sity of Art and De­sign pro­grams aimed at fos­ter­ing the use of wood in con­struc­tion.

The 18-storey tim­ber-hy­brid Brock House res­i­dence at UBC has also taken cen­tre stage at Wood So­lu­tions.

This year, how­ever, the cli­mate as­pects are more firmly at cen­tre stage of the week’s events than in pre­vi­ous years when the fo­cus was as much on pro­mot­ing B.C.’s value-added man­u­fac­tur­ing of for­est prod­ucts.

“That (In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change) re­port is just an­other state­ment in a long se­ries of state­ments that em­pha­sizes the need for this kind of col­lab­o­ra­tion,” said Rob Bern­hardt, CEO of Pas­sive­house Canada, about this week’s events.

Canada has a “very good pol­icy frame­work,” with its Build Smart ini­tia­tive, Bern­hardt said, but gov­ern­ments need more en­cour­age­ment in im­ple­men­ta­tion.

“Do­ing is far more dif­fi­cult than plan­ning,” Bern­hardt said.

And Ver­meulen said she is hope­ful that her firm’s Haut pro­ject, along with other projects that have been built or are un­der de­vel­op­ment stand as ex­am­ples for a dif­fer­ent kind of tall sky­line than those dom­i­nated by tow­ers built out of hard ma­te­ri­als such as glass, con­crete and steel.

“We imag­ine that a great big, high city can be soft, com­fort­able, and to a large part, made out of wood,”she said.

And Haut stands as an ex­am­ple for how well the pro­ject is be­ing ac­cepted, Ver­meulen said.

“We man­aged to do it and we man­aged to sell the apart­ments and we didn’t en­counter any in­sur­ance or mort­gage or any kind of process prob­lems.”

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