UBC, VAG propose tall wood towers: a sign of buildings to come?

The 18-storey student residence at UBC

The proposed Vancouver Art Gallery

The Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, completed October 2014

Plus, Telus to spend $1 billion on fibre-optic upgrades and the mayor of Delta grumbles about Alberta

Concrete plans
Where once only cement could go, a handful of high-profile building projects are opting to use a slightly more traditional material: timber. On Tuesday, it was plans for the new, wooden Vancouver Art Gallery. Then on Thursday, news came that construction on an 18-storey, 174-foot structure at UBC, to house around four hundred students, would begin later this fall. To be completed by early 2017, the future student residence will be made of timber atop a concrete base at a cost of $51.5 million. According to the architect, the use of wood will add an additional 8 per cent more to the cost compared to building with steel and concrete. All of that is to be funded by UBC with support from provincial and federal programs.

The more prominent—but far least concrete—proposed future Vancouver Art Gallery would be an even taller 220-foot set of interconnected wooden boxes. While architects Herzog and de Meuron did not specify the construction material (which would typically be concrete for a building of this size and scale), lead architect Christine Binswinger said in her design statement that “it would be a powerful statement to construct this large building out of wood,” throwing a nod to the provincial government’s support of tall wood buildings.

Those projects will all use a material called cross-laminated timber. Pioneered in Switerland in the early ’90s, dense wood panels have been touted as an alternative to concrete and have been embraced by B.C. lumber producers and the provincial government. “The market [for CLT] has been good,” said Bill Downing, president of Penticton-based Structurlam Products, a heavy timber maker, in an interview with BCBusiness earlier this year. “It’s a specialty product, but the demand is building. The challenge, however, lies in the building code, which limits wood-frame structures to six-stories. UBC is placing heavy emphasis on its safety features, likely intended to reassure the public as well as building inspectors, going so far as to build a full-scale mock-up support structure in Abbotsford for testing.

Copper to glass
Telus plans to spend $1 billion on upgrading its fibre optic networks in the City of Vancouver over the next five years in what Darren Entwistle, Telus president and CEO, describes as “a generational investment.” The rollout will affect around 400,000 consumers and businesses in the city, upgrading home speeds to 150 megabits a second (you can see how Telus compares with other major internet providers here). In statements, both Premier Christy Clark and Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson lauded the announcement, with Robertson saying that it would “spur continued growth in the technology sector.”

Pipeline politics
A spat erupted Thursday over the proposed route of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline when Alberta Premier Rachel Notley suggested to Bloomberg that the proposal could muster more political support if it looked at alternatives to the planned route through Burnaby. One of her suggestions: Delta. Naturally, Lois Jackson, the mayor of Delta, weighed in on NEWS 1130, saying it wouldn’t be a firm “no” from her. “Pipeline, across this country, has been here for a long, long time and in many other places and it’s by and large good, clean fuel for people. It’s a lot better than coal,” she saidA little later, however, she told CBC News that it was presumptuous of the Alberta premier and “entirely inappropriate.” For its part, Kinder Morgan maintains that its choice—to twin the pipeline along a route it already uses to a site it already owns—is the safest and most environmentally sound option.