After a century, when the steel and concrete became the standard for the construction of tall buildings, the humble tree makes a comeback.

Sidewalk Labs LLC, a division unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., plans to use timber to build all its buildings for a mixed-use community across the east coast of Toronto. Meanwhile, Oregon became the first US state to change the building code to allow longer buildings made of timber.

The material can “contribute to people’s wellness, are beautiful, easy to assemble, and strong enough support to build dozens of stories,” said Karim Khalifa, director of buildings innovation at Sidewalk Labs. “And unlike concrete and steel, which are very carbon intensive to produce, using timber in buildings takes carbon out of the atmosphere.”

When the steel prices increase, the timber becomes more competitive in terms of cost. The Toronto-based real estate company is planning a ten-story office building outside of timber in Vancouver.

“It’s the old brick and beam character, but without the creaks and drafts, and with the quality of a new building,” said Dejonckheere, vice president at Triovest. “We want to show we’re early adopters and make new ideas work.”

But this is not just about aesthetics. Dejonckheere hopes that Triovest will be able to collect potentially five to ten percent rent based on the unique character of the building.

Unlike the heavy wooden construction, which was built 100 years ago, builders used young billet timber from smaller trees, together with an early advocate architect Michael Green. Unlike traditional two-four timber, the cross-laminated wood consists of layers of wood glued together to form solid, thick panels that can be custom-sized for everything from walls and floors to beams and roofs.

Tests have shown that woods are resistant to fire at a level close to three hours, in some cases, even though the state fires were, in some cases, vulnerable to the National Research Council Canada.

Time gain

Although the raw costs for cross-laminated wood are roughly equivalent to other materials, the main savings came over time, said Robert Glowinski, president and general manager of the American Wood Council, an industry group representing wood producers. The modules are labeled on site and ready to be mounted by crane to a specific point.

In addition, cross-laminated timber does not need to harden like concrete, accelerate construction and reduce required field equipment.

Although it still represents a small portion of the North American timber market, a shift by the International Code Council, an agency developing model codes followed by the state and local municipalities, can help massively adopt it, according to the ERA Forest Products Survey. The proposed changes to the ICC building code models will allow the construction of 18-storey high-volume timber structures from the previous six limits.

ICC Chief Executive Dominic Sims said that if approved, the shifts would have “a significant impact” on the materials used for future construction.

Building codes

Similarly, the National Research Council in Canada is working on changes to allow construction of 12-storey construction in 2020 building code. However, Philip Rizcallah, program director of the agency’s construction research center.

The country already sees $ 750 million spent for the construction of bulk wood each year, and after approval of the amendments, there are more than 200 bulk wood projects over six floors in British Columbia.

ERA Mason said that the mass timber could be about 1.5 percent of North America’s timber market and could be worth about $ 2 billion globally in the mid-2020s. Martin Juravsky, the finance officer of the timber producer Interfor Corp. in Vancouver, can do more than build small, start-up houses as gains can compensate more than reduce timber use in single-family homes.

Small houses

According to the Washington-based National Association of Home Producers, the new home size has been falling in the last three years due to the change in home-level home construction. Robert Dietz, chief economist of the association, says that smaller square footage and more open floor plan designs use less timber in each new unit being built.

Nevertheless, Mark Wilde, a small part of the market and an analyst for the BMO Capital Markets in New York, said most of the timber had gone into housing construction. Wilde said he could take five or 10 years until he created too much demand for mass-timber timber.

Timber construction “is a very dramatic shift in how we think about building,” Green, the architect, said by telephone. “Everybody’s realizing if we really step back and look at the future of construction it’s offsite construction, greater automation, faster timelines.”


Melike Vodina /