The oldest building material could be what pushes the construction industry into the future.
Michael Green, the principal architect at Michael Green Architecture, was the keynote speaker at the Wood Solutions fair held in downtown Vancouver recently.
His speech looked at the disruptive power of wood as a construction material as well as what he perceives as missed opportunities for B.C. builders.
“Construction is the last craft-based industry on the planet. Buildings are built in the pouring rain and we accept a certain amount of mystery for the final product. That’s going to change,” Green said.
Concrete and steel buildings are largely built onsite. Both need raw materials brought to site, but wood buildings, because of their weight, mean “we can move towards systems building,” he explained.
Prefabricated buildings are lightweight, assembled quickly indoors and shipped to the building site.
“But they aren’t as resilient and infrastructure such as plumbing and electrical has to be installed onsite,” Green said.
There is a movement to build systems at a sophisticated level on the factory floor, Green said.
“This will mean a radical change in the pace of building installation, which allows for buildings created in factories that delivers housing for 30 per cent less than conventional construction. A company that can build for 30 per cent less than anyone else will become the Amazon of our industry,” Green said.
Mass timber is one tool to bring change, he said, and “while cross-laminated timber dominates the discussion worldwide, there’s a million different ingredients you can put in the soup of your building.”
He added products such as mass timber aren’t just important for building taller wood structures but also to create “legacy structures that need to last 100 years or more.”
At the provincial level, however, there seems to be a reluctance to embrace wood to its full potential, he added, citing interest in wood construction in the United States and Europe, but less so in British Columbia.
Green cited the T3 project in Minneapolis, Minn., a project he designed and B.C.-based StructureCraft built, as one example of B.C. wood know-how employed outside of the province.
“The United States recognizes the skill and competitiveness of B.C. firms using wood,” he said. “Canadian firms are building all over the world and this is what we have to live up to. If they’re doing it there, maybe we should be doing it at home.”
There has been some progress on home soil, Green conceded. He termed the Wood Innovation Design Centre in Prince George, B.C. as a “milestone” for his firm and added that each new project is an educational moment for the industry.
Green also said while there needs to be further movement for wood construction in British Columbia, the relative newness of wood construction in the region is a silver lining for architects.
“Since there isn’t much movement in the province, projects are in their infancy, which as a designer, I love,” Green said.