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November 28, 2017

Wood reaches new heights as a building material in Canada

George Brown College has steadily grown since its establishment in 1967 and now operates out of more than a dozen buildings spread throughout Toronto’s core. One of its future facilities will be the most unique.

The public college of 26,000 students plans to erect a 12-storey tower framed of wood at its waterfront campus on Lake Ontario to house its computer technology program and a centre for researching climate-friendly building practices. It will complement a nearby existing health sciences building and a new design school that’s opening in 2019.

Once ready in 2024, the tower dubbed The Arbour will be the highest wood-framed building for institutional use in Ontario and a significant milestone in the revival of timber as a construction material for tall structures.

“The future is certainly wood,” says Shane Williamson, a principal at the architecture firm Williamson Williamson Inc. in Toronto.

Wood was a dominant building material in Canada’s early days for commercial and residential properties, but it gradually gave way last century to safer and sturdier materials like concrete and steel as building heights grew. But with new safety and engineering insights into timber, tall wood buildings are making a strong comeback.

The revival may gain even more momentum under a new federal government program announced this fall. The Green Construction Through Wood initiative, meant for buildings 10 storeys and above, will provide nearly $40-million in funding to developers over four years, starting in April of 2018. The deadline for applicants is Dec. 6.

Ottawa is also expected to push along revisions to the National Building Code of Canada that would allow tall wood buildings to go beyond the current limit of six storeys. (Provincial limits differ and vary.)

Keep reading in The Globe and Mail