A one-of-a-kind light-industrial/commercial building in mid-town Vancouver is set for substantial completion by May 2022.
A pilot project whose soft costs are supported in part by Forestry Innovation Investment and Natural Resources Canada, the four-storey, 840-square metre building is intended to demonstrate high-performance mass timber construction and design.
Called oN5 (“On Five”), its name refers to its location near the intersection of Ontario Street and West 5th Avenue, in a busy commercial area of Mt. Pleasant, where there are many architecture and design firms.
The owner of the building is Robert Malczyk, the engineer of record on the project and principal of consulting structural engineers Timber Engineering Inc.
“There will be light industrial on the ground floor and three levels of offices above, including the headquarters of Timber Engineering,” said Malczyk.
oN5 is noteworthy, he says, for being built back-to-front on a 25-foot frontage out of slabs of prefab cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels using no posts or beams. And to Passive House standards, too.
We were able to do it cheaper than concrete, too — $475/square foot compared to $500/square foot,
— Robert Malczyk
Timber Engineering Inc.
“It’s the first building of its kind outside of Europe,” said Malczyk. “The method of construction is common only in Europe.”
Malczyk says one of the project’s biggest challenges was its tight sight conditions.
“Zero-lot lines to the east and the west created blind conditions that made the external face of the CLT envelope wall panels inaccessible once they were craned into position on-site,” he said.
For that reason, air-tight wall assemblies were prefabricated off-site, and structural and envelope connections were completed once the panels had been installed on-site.
Planning far in advance and virtual design were instrumental in achieving the project’s success.
“It’s important to construct a building on tight sites like oN5 virtually, with all parties in the room,” said Malczyk. “When you involve the crane crew, the erection crew and someone who knows the rules and cost of closing off a street, you can determine in advance whether you should close a street down for an extra week, or bring in a crane that costs more, but can also speed up construction.”
Malczyk says it was critical on the project to have a staging area where materials could be laid down before assembly.
“Virtual construction enabled us to explore alternative sequencing on a site where the only staging area was the floor slab on level two,” he said.
Although the project was challenging, it was a complete success, Malczyk says
“We were able to do it cheaper than concrete, too — $475/square foot compared to $500/square foot,” he said.
In addition to its innovative design and construction method, oN5 and mass timber structures like it can mitigate climate change, according to US research.
A team of researchers compared mid-rise buildings using mass timber and conventional concrete and steel building materials.
They said that if low-carbon construction was scaled up by substituting mass timber for conventional building materials in one-half of expected new urban construction, global emissions can be reduced by as much as nine percent. That would be enough to meet targets for the year 2030 for keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
At oN5 the general contractor and construction manager was Naikoon Contracting Ltd. of North Vancouver.
Naikoon president Joe Geluch says the project’s virtual construction process was a deviation from the more typical design-bid-build.
“The logistics of working on a 25-foot-wide infill site on a busy street in Mt. Pleasant was also different for us,” said Geluch. “But the one year of pre-construction work paid off. The erection onsite took place in just 15 days.
Another unusual feature of the project is that its progress is being tracked carefully by a third-party innovation development consultant.
SCIUS Advisory Inc., a Vancouver boutique consulting firm, was hired by Forestry Innovation Investment, one of the supporters of the project, to track the innovations as they are being installed.
“We’re there as professional eyes and ears for the project,” said Helen Goodland, SCIUS principal and head of research and innovation. “We take note of any glitches that come up, and they might when you’re trying anything new for the first time.”
SCIUS uses onsite web cams pointed at the project as well as drone flyovers. “At the end of the project we can turn our records into building maintenance information,” said Goodland.
The project went well, she says.
“There were no unforeseen challenges with innovations in the building methodology and there were even few supply chain challenges due to COVID-19,” said Goodland. “Mass timber construction using pre-fab CLT panels should become a trend. Any standard building types should be built this way.