B.C. wood, know-how at the heart of Google’s first mass timber office building

Click to play video: 'Vancouver company leading ‘mass wood building’ revolution'
Vancouver company leading ‘mass wood building’ revolution
A Vancouver company is leading the revolution of mass wood buildings, by building the new Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. Paul Johnson reports – Nov 5, 2021

Global technology giant Google is making use of British Columbia timber and expertise as it works to complete its first ever mass-timber office in Sunnyvale, Ca.

Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture served as the lead designer on the the five-storey, 182,000 square-foot facility, slated for completion next year.

The project relies primarily on composite wood products, sourced from B.C., which principal architect Natalie Telewiak said will cut the carbon intensity of the building by 96 per cent compared to traditional concrete and steel.

“These materials are actually grown by the sun. So you think about the carbon that goes into those trees and forests, grows those materials, and then when we sustainably extract those form the forest and then replant them, that new tree then also absorbs carbon,” Telewiak said.

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“So when done sustainably, it’s part of a net-zero solution for construction.”

Click to play video: 'Proposal to build world’s tallest wood tower in Vancouver'
Proposal to build world’s tallest wood tower in Vancouver

Mass timber construction is an emerging industry that makes use of smaller pieces of wood manufactured into large, stronger components through pressure treatment and adhesive materials.

The prefabricated pieces can then be assembled more quickly than traditional construction methods; in the Sunnyvale project, the entire superstructure went up in 12 weeks.

The market for mass timber construction has surged in recent years, with multi-storey towers built with composite wood products now springing up across the globe.

In British Columbia, such towers are permitted up to 12 storeys in height, while the 2021 International Building Code has been amended to allow for structures of up to 18 storeys based on rigorous fire testing by the U.S. government.

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Telewiak said the technology should allow buildings of up to 40 storeys or more, and that her firm has proved out a 35-storey prototype as a part of Toronto’s Portlands development, she said.

“The extent really is open in terms of how high can you actually go,” she said.

The growing acceptance of mass-timber construction comes as B.C. faces international scrutiny and growing debate over the future of its forest industry, particularly old-growth logging.

Click to play video: 'Canada leading the way in tall wood building construction'
Canada leading the way in tall wood building construction

More than 1,000 people have been arrested at anti-old-growth logging protests on Vancouver Island, and the province moved Tuesday to defer logging in a number of key regions around the province.

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Telewiak said the new techniques involved in mass-timber construction can help head off those disputes by prioritizing wood harvested from second- and third-growth forests.

“Mass timber really relies on these smaller pieces, and that’s really the opportunity to tap into these sustainable cycles,” she said.

She said the growing market also could pay dividends for British Columbia as a manufacturing hub for value-added products like cross-laminated timber and gluelam (glued laminated timber).

“It really means we’re able to take the fiber that we have available from sustainably managed forests, and by adding that value we’re able to create an entire industry built on the manufacturing, fabrication and erection that adds on to the inherent value we have in the timber,” she said.

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