As of last October, the world’s tallest wood building constructed in modern times, using contemporary techniques, could be found on the campus of the University of Northern British Columbia, in the city of Prince George.
The eight-story, 96-foot-tall Wood Innovation and Design Centre (WIDC), designed by Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture (MGA), sits on a concrete raft slab and contains 51,000 square feet of office and educational space. Leasable office space occupies the top three floors while the lower levels are dedicated to the university’s proposed Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design.
At ground level, a double-height, triple-glazed curtainwall with laminated veneer lumber (LVL) mullions connects an interior sheathed entirely in wood to the street outside. The building was designed to showcase the aesthetic and structural capabilities of lumber in commercial construction. “Twelve years ago, we were waking up to the role of buildings in climate issues,” MGA principal Michael Green says. Contemporary construction is predominantly with steel and concrete—materials whose combined production tally up to 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But timber, when forested responsibly, can reduce emissions and store carbon, which are the most effective methods to preserve the planet, Green says. “That understanding is something we use in suburban housing—building with 2x4s for example,” he says. “But as the world trends toward urban environments, we need taller buildings that incorporate how we built before steel and concrete were in fashion.” Green cites Japanese temples and Egyptian tombs—tall timber structures that stand for millennia and still function as public space today—as examples of low environmental impact buildings with longevity.