Builders in British Columbia are changing the way contractors think about tall structures. In the past, architects and builders have used materials like aluminum, brick, glass, concrete, plastic and steel. They’ve never thought of using wood and there are some good reasons for that. The most compelling reason not to use wood for a high rise is the fire hazard.
However, with the advanced fire prevention techniques used today, there’s very little chance of a fire that would consume an entire building. Occasionally, kitchen fires break out in residential buildings. But smoke alarms and sprinkler systems prevent them from becoming severe. Since these fire prevention techniques are now required in the building code, this limits the chances that a fire will consume a building regardless of what it is made of.
Canada Is Changing Its Building Codes
Canada is currently making changes to its national building codes to allow wooden buildings. At the moment, contractors can build up to 12 stories, but next year that number will increase. British Columbia Premier, John Horgan, believes that wooden structures could be safe, beautiful and more environmentally friendly.
In British Columbia, the wood industry is thriving and this has spawned talks about creating mass timber projects. Some architects see a day with buildings as tall as 40 stories made primarily of wood. An 18-story mass timber project in Vancouver at Brock Commons residence hall at the University of B.C. is in its early planning stages at the moment.
Another 40-story project called Canada Earth Tower is also in the early stages of planning but will have to wait until the building codes have been changed to allow structures this tall made of wood. Other building contractors around the world are considering this notion. Recently a Tokyo-based architectural firm laid out plans for a 70-story cross-laminated timber high rise project. Architects in the U.S. are also currently considering these radical concepts.
As more and more wood buildings go up, other countries should follow. Wooden structures do require some special attention to details to prevent wood rot, termites and other damage that wooden objects tend to be subject to.
Can Wooden High Rise Buildings Withstand Hurricane Force Winds?
This is one question up for controversy among builders and architects. Some believe that wooden structures are just as strong as metals and glass, while others believe a hurricane-force wind could severely damage a building made of wood. Though extensive testing will be performed on wooden structures, only time will tell whether they can hold up. In areas that are prone to earthquakes, a wooden building could fare much better than one made of concrete, metal and glass.
Wooden objects tend to age well and that’s a proven fact. A wooden desk made of mahogany and chestnut can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The desk was made around 1765, which would make it 254 years old. It’s still in excellent condition. A number of log cabins dating back several hundred years are still standing today.
Of course, most homes are primarily built of wood but you rarely see one that is over two stories tall. That’s the biggest issue with high rise structures that will be designed with 12, 18, 40 or more floors. There are many questions about whether these new structures can withstand Mother Nature, time and wear the same as concrete, metal and glass buildings.