As the world looks towards brand new solutions to design and construct sustainable cities of the future Canada has begun to take the lead. British Colombia has doubles the height limits that are allowed for timber towers, and it has become a beacon of possibilities for masterplanners, designers, and architects the world over looking for an innovative and sustainable way to build the high-rise buildings of the near future and beyond.
It all began in Canada with the 18-storey Brock Commons tower in Vancouver. This was once the tallest building made of timber in the entire world, and was built in a process that was much more efficient, cheaper, and much faster than when compared with a tower of a similar size that was made with a steel and concrete structure. It was also had a much lower environmental impact than other materials used to build tall city buildings (offsetting 2,432 metric tonnes of carbon – an estimate). The provincial government in British Colombia has now decided to change the building codes to help the situation. From now on, buildings made from wooden frames can be double the size they were previously, up to 12-storeys. Brock Commons was given an exception at the time it was built.
The change of building codes in BC is expected to be taken on as a standard by the Canadian government and matched across the nation, in a bold move that will be welcomed by architects and urban planners across the world. Back in Vancouver, the Canada Earth Tower is planning to push these limits even further, with an ambitious aim to be the tallest wooden building in the world, standing at 40-storeys high, and including 200 homes and an outdoor garden every three floors. Alongside the residential properties are planned retail and office space in a well thought-out nod to how the cities of the future could be shaped upwards whilst balancing environmental needs with fiscal opportunities.
Across Canada the impact on these moves has already been considerable, with around 500 mid-rise timber buildings in the process of completion in various parts of the country, and there continues to be a relaxation in building codes in other countries as a direct result of the route Canada appears to be taking. These changes can be seen in relaxation of codes in the United States and China.
It certainly helps of course that Canada is home to around 350 million hectares of forest, and although huge swathes of this land is rightly protected from logging, there is a growing awareness of the environmental impact of construction and the growth in urban and metropolitan developments. As populations continue to move into big towns and cities from the countryside and the world faces up to climate change, there is a need to start looking at construction in a different way, in order to meet the needs of the economy, the population, but also to be fully aware of how we can help the environment.