Every Monday, The Urban Land Institute asks industry experts to weigh in on current directions in commercial real estate, as reflected in a metric. See why Bio-Logical Capital CEO and Founder, Grant McCargo, picked the number 18.
18: The Number of Floors in the University of British Columbia’s Wooden Dormitory
The first wooden building in the world taller than 14 stories is under construction at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, the university says. When it is completed in September 2017, the $51.5 million Brock Commons student residence will stand about 174 feet (53 meters) tall—18 stories. Its prefabricated components include cross-laminated-timber floors supported on glue-laminated wood columns.
“Mass-timber technology is the future of urban high-rise construction,” says Grant McCargo, chief executive officer of Urban Villages, a Denver-based development company exploring mass-timber construction. Through mass-timber technology, composite wood is created from multiple wood pieces to increase their compressive and tensioned strength.
“Mass-timber construction allows us to offer a truly climate-positive building when it is paired with the latest operational technology,” he says. “That’s because unlike building materials like concrete and steel, timber acts as a carbon sink, further enhancing global carbon sequestration in the process.
“Mass-timber construction also offers a suite of efficiencies not found in traditional construction,” he adds. “Projects can take significantly less time to construct because mass-timber products are prefabricated and relatively easy to assemble.” That can create considerable savings. Mass-timber products also have an exceptionally high strength-to-weight ratio. “That allows foundation loads to be decreased, resulting in further cost savings,” he says.
“These cost savings will allow downtown areas to densify more quickly and can encourage the construction of high-quality, market-driven affordable and workforce housing,” he says. “In addition, for rural areas struggling with the decline of extractive industries, mass-timber production can act as an economic development engine.
“While mass-timber construction represents the future, there are still barriers to its implementation in the U.S.,” says McCargo. “The 2015 International Building Code places a very high bar for code acceptance of mass timber, though it does make provision for it as an ‘alternative means of construction.’”
Also, only a very limited number of mass-timber panel and panel connection products have been fully tested to earn the industry-standard certification from UL, a global independent safety science company. “This is an issue for jurisdictions nationwide—even in jurisdictions that have adopted the 2015 code and embrace the concept of mass-timber construction,” he says. “Insurance providers are generally uncomfortable with any new technology, let alone one that lacks operational history and complete fire testing.
“But these barriers are not insurmountable,” says McCargo. “Once the first generation of timber buildings is established, the barriers to implementation will begin to fall away, permitting widespread adoption of this important technology.”