The completion of an 18-storey student residence tower at UBC has caught the attention of Japanese architects and engineers, raising the profile of a Penticton-based company and B.C.’s wood industry as a whole.
The wood hybrid structure called Brock Commons uses cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels built around a concrete foundation and towers that house elevators. It has redefined how Asian builders see the potential of wood, and spurred their work to test the limits of wood-frame construction.
A B.C. forest industry trade mission visited the Building Research Institute in Tsukuba, Japan and toured a pair of test buildings, a six-storey conventional frame structure and a modern-style home with overhangs and suspensions designed to stress-test CLT panels.
On the trade mission was Randy Pratt, president of B.C. housing developer Adera Capital Corp., parent company of Structurlam Products, which produced components for Brock Commons at its plants in Penticton and Okanagan Falls.
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The company started in 1962, where it pioneered the “glulam” beams that became a familiar sight in B.C. school gymnasiums and other public buildings. Japan, with its centuries-old tradition of post-and-beam wood construction, has been a key export customer from the start.
Structurlam engineered wood components are also used in striking wood structures including the Richmond Olympic Oval, UBC Okanagan’s fitness centre in Kelowna, the Mica Heli-Ski Lodge at Revelstoke, Armstrong Arena and Elkford Community Hall.
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The Penticton location has been a good site and base for expansion.
“The real fit there is a combination of fibre, people and freight,” Pratt said. “We draw Douglas fir from the Kootenays and SPF (spruce-pine-fir) from the north, and a lot of talent in the South Okanagan for production and design, and we have the ability to truck and rail anywhere in North America.”
Bill Downing, president of Structurlam in Penticton, said they have several projects on the go besides the Penticton Lakeside Resort. In Portland there is an eight storey condominium that is under construction and will be the largest mass timber structure in the U.S. at 85-feet tall when it is completed. Fabrication also just started on the initial set of glulam arches to be delivered to India for use in construction of a university — a first foray into that country for Structurlam.
While “tall wood” towers are catching on around the world, the big market for B.C. wood products is in single-family and mid-rise housing, and a fast-growing market for resorts.
The western Canadian look of engineered beams and high windows is popular in the western U.S., as well as Alberta and B.C. And it is catching on in China, the biggest consumer market in the world.
China is a tough market for Structurlam, but Pratt says they’ve had some success with resort and golf course clubhouses, and large recreation centres for housing developments like the one Adera is building at its South Ridge Club townhouse complex in South Surrey.
“Those sort of high-profile trophy projects allow you to advertise and market the product and the brand,” he said. “The objective really is the larger market of simple, repeatable mid-rise commercial and residential projects. That’s the heart of the market.”
As for high-rise wood buildings, Structurlam has a proposal in the works for a 21-storey lakefront condo tower in its home town of Penticton.
“It’s early days and we’re keeping our fingers crossed, but it’s one of many tall wood projects on the boards in Canada and the U.S.,” Pratt said.
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