High hopes for growth of timber towers

Posted by Rumin Mann
March 11th, 2011

CANADIAN architect Michael Green had a key message for the Green Cities conference in Melbourne last week: high-rise towers can be built from timber and have a big role to play in a carbon-conscious urban world.

Mr Green’s Vancouver-based firm, mgb ARCHITECTURE, is designing a prototype 30-storey building out of wood at Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia (BC).

”We – the Wood Enterprise Coalition, a combination of industry and the BC government – have a grant from the government to build this, ” he told BusinessDay at the conference, where he was a keynote speaker.

”We have the science and engineering work and need to follow it through and execute the scale that’s possible.”

Mr Green said the aim of the prototype was to show clients, developers, architects, contractors and building code authorities that high-rise wooden buildings were possible. ”We need to work on explaining the details of how these things work,” he said. ”I want to show it’s viable in the marketplace, and does not require subsidies. It can work on the economics.”

In the interim, Mr Green’s firm has designed a 12-storey building from wood that has been funded by the BC provincial government. This will also be built in Prince Rupert.

”The government has a role, but I want to prove this is a private-sector opportunity. A private-sector developer or contractor who jumps on this first will be the one who will reap rewards. In the future, there will be a lot of tall, wood buildings.”

To coincide with the Green Cities conference, Grocon announced it would build Melbourne’s first wooden tower – a 10-storey timber apartment block on the old Carlton & United Breweries site in Swanston Street. Like the nine-storey residential Stadthaus at Hackney, East London – the first in Britain – it will be made of engineered softwood panels imported from Europe.

The Grocon building’s lift shafts will also be of timber, and it will have its own gas-fired electrical generator powered by waste woodchips.

For the 30-storey building Mr Green said he would use laminated strand lumber (LSL) – thick, large sheets that were more than 20 metres long, and more convenient than the shorter cross-laminated timber (CLT). ”That’s the length that allows us to more easily build the larger buildings, but it can be done with any system,” he said.

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