Wood Solutions Conference demonstrates opportunities for mass timber construction

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Mark Buckshon

Ontario Construction Report staff writer

Architects, engineers, contractors and suppliers learned how mass wood construction techniques are evolving and growing in Canadian and international markets at the 2023 Ottawa Wood Solutions Conference in Ottawa Mar. 1.

The message: In addition to environmental sustainability; in many situations wood has become economically competitive against concrete and other building materials for mid to high-rise structures.

Several speakers outlined how builders can manage seismic challenges, moisture, wind and fire risks.

Of course there are still challenges. Trade contractors, owners, and consultants need to be comfortable with wood and it is important to realize that sustainable practices need to be managed within the forestry industry.

For example, keynote speaker Étienne Bélanger, director of forestry of the Forest Product Association of Canada, said “deforestation is still an important issue in our DNA” – though Canadian wood producers are leading the way in ensuring that forestry is sustainable. (One method is to look at natural approaches to forest harvesting, such as how natural forest fires spread, and conduct the cuts in line with the natural fire contours.)

In another session, speakers Patrick Crabble, director, mass timber at Bird Construction and Joe Nickerson, vice-president and partner, Sidewalk Real Estate Development, described the “business case” for a 27-storey mass timber residential structure in Halifax/Dartmouth, the largest of its kind in the province.

The planned development on provincially-owned land is still going through the planning and approvals process, but Nickerson indicated that Sidewalk has an advantage in that it owns properties on adjacent lands and is already working on an office building conversion and new nine-storey residential project on the site his company owns.

Crabble said a key element in making tall wood construction viable is working collaboratively at the design and planning stage, including with manufacturers, to ensure that structural components can be produced economically and delivered to the site in a timely manner.

When co-ordinated properly, construction timelines can be reduced greatly, resulting in significant overall cost savings, he said.

After the day’s technical sessions, there was a reception at Ottawa’s Shaw Centre where the Wood Design Award nominees were unveiled.

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