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Oregon just became the first state to legalize mass timber high-rises, and it could lead to a boom in tall wood buildings

Business Insider – by Peter Kotecki

A growing number of North American architects and developers are supporting mass timber construction. Tall timber can sequester carbon, it’s more resistant to fire than concrete, and it’s often cheaper than using steel or concrete. Timber structures use large, prefabricated wood pieces.

But the process of building mass timber structures remains tough, because most cities place height restrictions on wooden structures.  

In August, Oregon became the first US state to legalize mass timber high-rises, allowing wooden structures to rise above the previous six-story limit without special consideration.

With mass timber projects in many other cities pushing for approval and funding, take a look at some of the most prominent timber buildings in North America.

Google’s parent company wants to build a high-tech neighborhood made using mass timber on Toronto’s waterfront.

Google's parent company wants to build a high-tech neighborhood made using mass timber on Toronto's waterfront.Sidewalk Labs

Sidewalk Labs — the urban innovation subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company — is planning on building a high-tech neighborhood in Toronto, Canada.

The waterfront neighborhood, called Quayside, could become the largest mass timber development in the world. It is expected to cost about $1 billion, and it will also feature heated roadways and other innovations.

Quayside’s buildings have been designed to include green roofs for improving sustainability. Sidewalk Labs wants the buildings to be modular, saying this would cost as much or less than conventional buildings.

Some Toronto residents worry that Quayside will raise housing prices and worsen income inequality.

Some Toronto residents worry that Quayside will raise housing prices and worsen income inequality.Sidewalk Labs

Quayside, which covers about 3 million square feet, is one of the largest areas of underdeveloped urban land in North America. Zoning laws allow 90% of the neighborhood to be residential space — about 3,000 units — but Sidewalk Labs has not yet announced how many units it will build.

Plans to build the high-tech neighborhood have generated criticism among residents, who say Quayside could lead to gentrification, higher housing prices, and greater income inequality.

In addition, the proposal comes with some complications. The construction code covering Toronto puts a six-story limit to tall-timber buildings — meaning an exception would need to be made for Quayside — and timber supply chains need to grow before they can support such a large project.

In Portland, Oregon, a mass timber high-rise was suspended indefinitely this summer.

In Portland, Oregon, a mass timber high-rise was suspended indefinitely this summer.LEVER Architecture

In 2017, the first all-wood high-rise in the US was approved to be built in Portland, Oregon.

At the time, state officials said they hoped the construction would help rural areas in Oregon to revive a shrinking timber industry. Plans for the 11-story building called for cross-laminated timber, which has been shown to withstand big earthquakes.

As of July 2018, however, the project has been suspended indefinitely.

The mixed-use tower in Portland would have included retail space, offices, and apartments.

The mixed-use tower in Portland would have included retail space, offices, and apartments.KPFF Consulting Engineers

Lever Architecture initially said the building, called Framework, would be complete in late 2018. The project was reportedly halted due to a rise in cost, with construction in Portland becoming more expensive.

Framework would have included retail space on the ground floor, five stories of offices, and five stories of apartments.

Architects in Chicago have proposed an 80-story skyscraper made from wood.

Architects in Chicago have proposed an 80-story skyscraper made from wood.Perkins+Will

The River Beech Tower would be located along the Chicago River, according to architecture firm Perkins+Will.

If built, the tower will include office space and 300 residential apartments. Residents and visitors will be able to access green spaces throughout the tower.

River Beech Tower is just one of the architects’ goals for the Chicago Loop.

River Beech Tower is just one of the architects' goals for the Chicago Loop.Perkins+Will

River Beech Tower could rise amid Perkins+Will’s master plan for the Riverline community in Chicago’s South Loop.

The Riverline project is set to include 10 buildings, a green space, and a river walk. Construction crews began workingon the 10-year project in 2016.

A 10-story condo building in New York was axed when the project was no longer feasible.

A 10-story condo building in New York was axed when the project was no longer feasible.SHoP Architects

When it received a Tall Wood Building Prize from the US Department of Agriculture in 2015, SHoP Architects intended to show the potential of mass timber technology with a new project in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

The design called for a 10-story condo building with retail space on the ground floor. But in 2017, the developer called off the project, telling The Real Deal that construction was no longer feasible due to a downturn in the market.

New York’s building code may have played a part in the project’s cancellation.

New York's building code may have played a part in the project's cancellation.SHoP Architects

New York City’s laws may have impacted the decision as well, Curbed reported, as wooden structures are only allowed to reach six stories without special consideration.

SHoP Architects still plans on using tall timber technology for future construction projects.

Brooklyn, however, is getting two mass timber office buildings.

Brooklyn, however, is getting two mass timber office buildings.Flank

Though the Chelsea tower was ultimately not built, smaller timber construction projects are having more luck in New York.

The architecture and development firm Flank is building two brick-and-beam buildings in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. The buildings, 320 and 360 Wythe, will feature two floors of office space and more than 15,000 square feet of rentable retail space.

320 and 360 Wythe did not need special approval for construction because both buildings are within New York City’s height limit for timber structures.

The Williamsburg project is using the same Canadian timber as Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside development.

The Williamsburg project is using the same Canadian timber as Sidewalk Labs' Quayside development.Flank

The raw timber used for the Wythe buildings comes from Canadian forests, the same source of wood in Sidewalk Labs’ Toronto project.

According to Flank, wood production emits far less carbon dioxide than equivalent designs with concrete or steel. Growing trees sequester carbon dioxide in their fibers, which makes mass timber structures “carbon negative,” Flank said.

A 12-story condo building in Quebec, Canada, is primarily made of cross-laminated timber.

A 12-story condo building in Quebec, Canada, is primarily made of cross-laminated timber.Stephane Groleau

In Quebec, Canada, the 12-story Origine building sits on topof a one-story concrete podium.

The condo building, which was completed in 2017, is primarily made of cross-laminated timber. Origine has thermal insulation and a smart waste chute on each floor. The building includes a charging station for electric cars, and the structure is LEED certified.

Origine required special approval, but Quebec officials have since rewritten the code to permit tall-timber structures.

Origine required special approval, but Quebec officials have since rewritten the code to permit tall-timber structures.Stephane Groleau

An architect at Nordic Structures told Business Insider that Quebec’s building codes did not allow for a structure as tall as Origine to made built of wood.

After tests and demonstrations, however, local authorities approved the project, and a guide for tall-timber structures has since been written. Now, tall-timber structures in Quebec need to be covered by drywall.

A student residence at the University of British Columbia is also made from mass timber.

A student residence at the University of British Columbia is also made from mass timber.Michael Elkan/Acton Ostry Architects and University of British Columbia

Brock Commons Tallwood House is a student residence at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

The 18-story building, which opened in July 2017, was part of Natural Resource Canada’s Tall Wood Building Demonstration Project Initiative.

British Columbia’s provincial government issued a site-specific regulation to let developers use mass timber for Brock Commons, making the building more resistant to fire than a steel or concrete tower.

Brock Commons Tallwood House was created in just 66 days.

Brock Commons Tallwood House was created in just 66 days.Michael Elkan/Acton Ostry Architects and University of British Columbia

Brock Commons — which consists of glue laminated timber, cross laminated timber, and prefabricated facade — was created in just 66 days.

The timber used to make it stores about 1,753 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and it cost about as much as a concrete building of similar size.

A seven-story high-rise in Minneapolis opened in late 2016.

A seven-story high-rise in Minneapolis opened in late 2016.Ema Peters

T3 — short for Timber, Technology, Transit — is a 220,000 square-foot office building made from mass timber.

Its lightness helps reduce the foundation size and seismic loads associated with building a concrete structure of similar size, which would weigh fives times as much.

The timber stores thousands of metric tons of carbon dioxide, reducing emissions.

The timber stores thousands of metric tons of carbon dioxide, reducing emissions.Corey Gaffer

According to the building’s website, T3 will store more than 3,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide in its timber. Building T3 out of mass timber instead of steel or concrete is equivalent to taking nearly 1,000 cars off the road.

In addition, T3 features a first-floor space for meetings and collaboration, a rooftop deck with seating, and a fitness center.

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6 Responses to Oregon just became the first state to legalize mass timber high-rises, and it could lead to a boom in tall wood buildings

  1. 'ol stewbum says:

    “…it’s more resistant to fire than concrete, and it’s often cheaper than using steel or concrete.”
    How in the blue shades of hades does that sentence make any sense. My own experiments prove that wood burns, sometimes fast and rock just will not ignite. I have tried to incinerate furniture, the wood burns away but the metal pieces have to be extricated from the wood ashes and discarded, from the rock bordered fire-pit.
    Additionally, glu-lam beams are strong, until they are not. When the adhesive breaks down, or the wood gets wet, or the bugs take a liking to it or any number of maintenance issues come to a head, the concrete and steel options look best. And that glue burns mighty hot, my woodstove showed me that, once! I’d never burn that stuff in my woodstove ever again!!
    This does not even broach the subject of clear-cutting forests, which is still in practice and will ramp up as these death structures are built.

  2. Mark Schumacher in LV says:

    I feel like I’m living on mars, this cannot possibly be America.

  3. Koyote says:

    That’s great until a toddler falls outta the house and dies….
    Oh wait!!!!
    The state can create a new department for that!
    The department of altitude!!!
    Just for your protection!!!

  4. mary in TX says:

    Future DEW targets

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