Construction to Begin on 12-Story CLT Wood Building in Quebec

Originally published by: EarthtechlingSeptember 27, 2015

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The tallest wooden building in North America is currently the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in downtown Prince George, British Columbia, Canada. But it’s not going to hold that distinction for very much longer, because construction is about to begin on an ambitious wooden residential structure in Quebec City.

The Origine condominium complex is planned for Quebec city’s eco-conscious Pointe-aux-Lièvres district and will consist of 41 meters of solid wood construction – 12 stories – supported by a concrete podium. The Canadian construction company Nordic Structures, whose specialty is Quebec-sourced cross-laminated timber (CLT) and wood construction, will be undertaking the build. They expect to break ground at the construction site on the bank of the Saint Charles River sometime this fall, and the condos will be ready for tenants by early 2017. Ten meters taller than the University of Northern British Columbia’s Wood Innovation Design Centre (WIDC), Origine is the most ambitious modern wood-construction project to be undertaken in North America to date.

Origine condominium complex, opening in 2017

Wood construction is green and safe?

Cross-laminated timber isn’t a new product – it’s been used since the 1990s in new construction in Europe and is slowly making its way over to the United States and Canada, in commercial and residential buildings only a few stories high. It’s made up of multiple sheets of wood, glued together so that the grain alternates from layer to layer. CLT is an incredibly strong building material, and its manufacturing uses less energy and releases less carbon than the manufacture of concrete and steel. In fact, wood construction is an effective way to sequester carbon, trapping it for as long as the building stands.

But wood construction still makes some construction and zoning officials nervous – most Canadian jurisdictions will only allow wood construction to a height of six stories, citing fire safety concerns. Nordic had to convince the Régie du bâtiment du Quebec, in charge of setting the province’s building codes, that their CLT structure would be as safe as a concrete building if a fire broke out. To prove it, Nordic built a partial model of the building’s floor and walls inside a fire furnace at the National Research Council in Ottawa.  They weighted the model as though it were the lowest floor, bearing the weight of the whole building, and then they burned it. The requirement for current building codes is that the structure should withstand two hours at 1200 degrees Celsius, and the model held up under the fire test for fifteen times that long.

Even though the engineered wood passed the fire tests with flying colors, the human fear of fire is difficult to ignore. Nordic will still be required to cover the internal wood structure with drywall on interior walls and aluminum on the exterior, which will take away much of its natural charm. Still, the Origine building will be the tallest ever built of its kind, and it’s leading the way for other architects and construction firms to follow in wood innovation.