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Wood building reaches for the sky in Prince George

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Canada's biggest foray into tall wood structures, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, is nearly complete.
Wood building reaches for the sky in Prince George

Canada's biggest foray into tall wood structures, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, is nearly complete.

At 90 feet tall, it will be the tallest modern all-wood building in North America.

“Wood is not only beautiful, it creates healthier places to live and work,” said Michael Green, the building’s architect.

One of the final stages, commissioning of the building systems, is expected to finish next month.

Construction completion, turnover and occupancy should be done in the fall.  

Except for the concrete foundation, the slab for the mechanical penthouse and the glazing, only wood materials are used.

The building will include research facilities and classroom space for the University of Northern B.C.’s new program in wood engineering, and office space for industry organizations.

The building is part of a growing movement to build bigger and taller with wood.

According to Wood WORKS! B.C. in the past five years, 17 wood buildings, eight storeys or taller have been built in Sweden, the UK, Germany, Austria, Norway and Australia.

Eric Karsh, a structural engineer on the project, said that because of this it likely won’t hold its “tallest” title very long.

But, he hopes it will help show the world that North America is a leader in tall wood building.

Green is helping lead the charge for tall wood building in Canada.

He envisions wood towers dominating the world’s skylines.

Wood has some unique advantages.

Advanced wood technology developed in the past decade has helped push the medium forward, Green said.

Instead of stacking posts or beams, Green is designing structures using massive solid wood panels.

With these panels Green said he could design structures higher than 20 storeys.

Steel and concrete produce seven per cent of human greenhouse gas emissions.

And, 47 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions come from buildings.

Wood building does the opposite.

Wood products sequester more carbon dioxide than is emitted during harvesting, transportation and manufacturing.

They have a negative greenhouse gas footprint. Every thousand square feet of oriented strand board represents a net greenhouse gas removal equal to almost two barrels of oil.

But, building codes have some catching up to do. Green said unless projects receive special permission, like the Wood Innovation and Design Centre, wood structures are limited to four or five storeys.

He said these codes were drafted in late 1940s and early 1950s, before the days of things like cross-laminated timber.

Green said he expects the codes to change in the next few years.

But in the meantime, he hopes the public becomes more comfortable with the idea of tall wood buildings.

One concern some have is wood structures catching fire.

Karsh said different wood building systems behave differently in fire, and heavy wood building does not catch fire easily.

He said the Wood Innovation and Design Centre passed an independent review for structure and fire danger.

Green said others have expressed concerns about taking wood away from Canadian forests.

According to Wood WORKS! B.C. managed forests can redirect more carbon away from the atmosphere than natural forests.

Trees remove the most carbon dioxide when they are young and growing.

Carbon absorption slows down as trees mature and eventually they release carbon when they die.

If the trees are harvested before they burn or decay, the carbon is stored indefinitely in the wood products, and new trees are planted to begin the cycle again.

by Russell Hixson

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