In Celebration Of Wood

Vancouver Sun By Michael Geller

The Wood Design Awards organized by WoodWorks, a program of the Canadian Wood Council celebrate innovative structural and architectural achievements using wood.

A few years ago, I was having a conversation with an acquaintance regarding The Lagoons, a condominium development at the entrance to Granville Island. He was certain his third-floor apartment was in a concrete building. I told him it was a wood-frame building with a lightweight concrete topping on the floor.

“Do you want to bet a bottle of scotch?” he asked. I told him it would be an unfair bet since I was part of the project’s development team and had watched it being built.

“Well it seems like a concrete building,” he responded.

I was reminded of this exchange at the 15th annual Wood Design Awards organized by WoodWorks, a program of the Canadian Wood Council that celebrates innovative structural and architectural achievements using wood.

In early March, more than 400 architects, engineers, designers, builders, owners and government officials gathered in the Vancouver Convention Centre, an appropriate venue considering the walls are covered in B.C. wood.

There were 103 nominations in 14 categories, showcasing wood’s strength, beauty, versatility, environmental and cost benefits. Submissions came from throughout B.C., as well as the U.S. and Asia, with international projects in China, Korea and Tajikistan.

Since 2005 when the program began, there have been some remarkable changes in wood construction in British Columbia. In those days, the maximum permitted height for a wood-frame building was four storeys.

Today, six-storey wood-frame buildings are becoming the norm, and during the awards program, it was suggested that one day 12 storeys might be the norm.

I thought this might be wishful thinking, but a week later the B.C. government announced changes to the building code to allow the construction of wood buildings up to 12 storeys.

Much of the credit for this code change must go to Brock Commons, an 18-storey wooden student residence at UBC that won multiple prizes at the 2017 awards. At that time, it was the tallest “mass timber” building in the world using new engineered wood products and construction techniques.

While some may question whether taller wood buildings can be sturdy and safe, it is noteworthy that most of Gastown’s older buildings have structures made of wood.

While their heavy timber construction differs from the lightweight “balloon frame” construction used in houses and smaller apartments, today’s new cross-laminated timber — or CLT — panels, glue-laminated timber, and parallel strand lumber products are the equivalent of heavy timber. These products, made from gluing layers of smaller pieces of lumber together, can be as strong and fireproof — yes, fireproof — as steel and concrete.

The award categories included residential wood design, commercial and industrial wood design, interior design, use of red cedar, prefabrication and other innovations.

Finalists in the multi-family category included Allwood Place in Abbotsford, Royce in White Rock, Travino Square in Saanich, West Quay in North Vancouver and Yorkson Creek in Langley, with the winner being Adera Development Corp. for Virtuoso. (Adera won in the same category last year for its Prodigy project.)

Designed by Rositch Hemphill Architects, Virtuoso comprises a six-storey mass timber building and townhomes with a stunning West Coast design, and is Canada’s first private residential multi-family building to be constructed using cross-laminated timber.

Like Brock Commons, Virtuoso uses CLT panels in its flooring systems. They are exposed at each balcony overhang, enhancing the building’s style and highlighting this beautiful wood material.

Another benefit of this innovative floor- and wall-assembly system is that it can significantly reduce sound transmission between homes, exceeding standards in both traditional wood-frame and even concrete construction.

It was not that long ago that the so-called leaky condo crisis caused significant grief for many B.C. homeowners, architects and developers. While industry experts questioned whether wood construction would ever become popular again, it was evident to everyone attending the awards program that, thanks to new wood products and improved design and construction techniques, wood is back.

This is not just a good thing for the residential construction industry. It is also positive for B.C.’s economy.

Michael Geller is a Vancouver architect, real estate consultant and developer. He serves on the adjunct faculty of SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Development and Resource and Environmental Management. His blog can be found at and he can be reached

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