Canadian forest industry delegation tours a home designed with extreme overhangs to stress-test cross-laminated timber construction at the Building Research Institute in Tsukuba, Japan, December 2016. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C.’s engineered wood leadership many years in the making

Cross-laminated timber is more than just high-rise material

For many B.C. residents, their experience with engineered wood construction began in the high school gym.

The provincial government was an early adopter of distinctive “glulam” wood beams to support gymnasium roofs, after the company now known as Structurlam started producing the laminated beams in the South Okanagan the 1960s.

Since then it has been a steady evolution into cross-laminated panels and other “mass timber” elements, with the latest beam technology featured world-wide in the roof of the vast Richmond speed-skating oval built for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

That evolution took another step forward this week, as Premier John Horgan visited Structurlam’s plant at Okanagan Falls to announce the B.C. building code is being changed from a limit of six storeys for wood construction to 12.

Horgan’s announcement formalized what was already happening on the ground, with a 12-storey housing project already approved last summer near the Esquimalt naval base, and another on the drawing boards in Victoria’s Burnside-Gorge neighbourhood. Canada’s national code is going to 12 floors next year, but B.C. isn’t waiting for that, Horgan said.

And as always, the U.S. is running hard, considering an International Code Council recommendation to allow buildings up to 18 storeys high by 2021. A 21-floor project was approved in January by Milwaukee, WI municipal officials.

Former forests minister Pat Bell led B.C.’s initiative in 2010, moving the traditional wood-frame height limit from four to six storeys and marketing the idea of engineered wood construction in Asia.

By 2016, the 18-storey Brock Commons residence at UBC was the talk of Asia, with Chinese officials keen on idea of prefabricated buildings rising rapidly using cross-laminated panels that cut down on China’s unsustainable dependence on concrete in the largest building boom in world history.

READ MORE: China, Japan put mass timber technology to the test

READ MORE: B.C. trade mission presses on despite tensions with China

In Tsukuba, Japan, the Building Research Institute was monitoring a modern house with extreme overhangs designed to stress-test cross-laminated panels, and a six-storey wood building with bulked-up gypsum wallboard on the lower floors was undergoing intensive fire resistance testing.

FPInnovations, a federally-led wood research network with facilities at UBC, assisted with the design of Brock Commons, and the Canadian Wood Council, a national industry group, has funded demonstration projects in Asia. One of the newest is Gapyeong Canada Village near Seoul, South Korea, at the site of a famous Canadian battle in the Korean War.

Rick Jeffery, interim president of the CWC, applauded the B.C. announcement this week. The B.C. announcement “marks the collective technical, research and code efforts from a consortium of industry partners that have worked together to demonstrate that tall wood is a safe, sophisticated and low-carbon building solution,” Jeffery said.

Structurlam has built leading-edge projects in B.C. such as the Mica Heli-Ski lodge at Revelstoke, UBC Okanagan’s fitness centre in Kelowna, and a series of U.S. projects in California, Oregon and Washington.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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