Brock Commons Tallwood House is a student accomodation block for the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver. It was completed last year and it holds the record for the world’s tallest contemporary wooden building – an accolade it will not enjoy for long. New engineering techniques are changing what we can do with wood, and there are a spate of new large-scale projects in various locations around the globe.
Brock Commons is technically a hybrid. The foundations and the core of the building are concrete, but the rest of it is made of wood, delivered to the site in prefabricated shapes and panels and fitted in just 66 days. It’s quick, lightweight, and before anyone leaps to the comment section, fully compliant with fire codes. If it’s anything like the student flats I once lived in, the fire alarms will be regularly tested by students’ cavalier approach to ‘cooking’.
I like wooden buildings, and the interiors of Brock Commons are full of the natural textures of wood. But in 21st century construction there’s more to wood than aesthetics. There’s a double carbon saving to wood construction that makes it well worth promoting in an age of climate change. First, by choosing wood you avoid emissions from concrete or steel, both of which have high carbon footprints. And second, wood stores carbon dioxide that was absorbed when the tree was growing, and locks it away for as long as that building stands. According to the architect, this particular building avoids 679 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, and stores 1,753 tons of CO2.
Wood isn’t the right choice for everyone – I’m not sure that Dubai should start buildings its towers out of it, but Vancouver has no shortage of sustainably forested timber. That means a saving in transport emissions too.
There are a couple of new mass timber buildings planned for London that I look forward to seeing rise, and hopefully we’ll see more of them in the coming years.