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A timber building as a showcase of the urban future
Editorial by: Sherif Goubran

Located at Prince George in northern British Columbia, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre, known in short as WIDC, is one of the tallest modern all-timber structures in the World. The WIDC is an eight-storey structure that stands 29.5m tall. Designed by Michael Green Architecture (MGA), the building was completed in 2014.

The center was designed and constructed to serve as a showcase for the modern timber building – in terms of engineered timber material, construction, structural, and architectural innovations [1]. It aims to communicate that mass timber structures can be economical, safe, and environmentally superior to other building materials [2], and that the timber construction technology can be efficient and easily repeatable in different projects [3]. The WIDC aims to inspire institutions and organizations to take up this type of construction. The building and it’s connection details also aim to act as experiential models for students, designers, and engineers.

The first three stories of the WIDC are occupied by the University of Northern British Columbia, where they will be running one of the first Master of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design Program. Guido Wimmers, a professor in the previously mentioned program, elaborates: “It is bragging a little bit in terms of showing off the material. Everything is transparent and you can actually see how it was built” [4]. The rest of the floors house offices for governmental, wood-industry and educational institutions, including the Emily Carr University of Art + Design Centre for Design Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

For Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, and MLA for Prince George, “it [the building] stands as an example of the possibilities” [1]. Since the building code of BC at the time of the construction had a six storey height limitation on timber buildings, the province had to enact what is known as a site-specific regulation for the WIDC [1].

In 2015, the building received the Architectural Institute of British Columbia innovation Award, Lieutenant-Governor of BC Award in Architecture (Merit) and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Award of Excellence for Innovation in Architecture. In 2016, the building won the Governor General’s Medal in Architecture and the Jury commented: “More than just a technological experiment, it combines intelligence, beauty and innovation in its approach to features such as the engineered wood curtain wall system, interior finishes and modulation of sunlight. The jury applauds the research contribution of this exceptional structure” [2].

Architect Michael Green made sure that concrete was only used in the foundation of the building [5]. This decision aimed to demonstrate the rapidity and effectiveness of a mass timber construction – that is free from any in-situ concrete and formwork [5]. The architect further explains: “The WIDC project is a global milestone for mass timber construction. The BC government has demonstrated exceptional leadership in the advancement of ideas that will reshape our cities with healthier, more energy-efficient and more climate-sensitive building solutions. The advancement of mass timber and tall wood buildings requires an evolution of our building codes around the world.” [6].

As the need to reduce greenhouse emissions and embodied energy in building materials continues to increase, wood could become an ever more popular solution to meet the growing demand for built spaces. When harvested from sustainability managed forests, it provides an environmentally sound alternative to conventional building materials: renewable, carbon-sequestering, and requiring less energy to be manufactured. As a showcase for high-rise and mass timber construction, the WIDC presents an image of this environmental economics driven future [5].

While many try to bolster the environmental and construction benefits of timber, it is rarely made clear that many ecological, social, economic, and political prerequisites are needed for these benefits to be fully realize. WIDC might be showing a viable future for BC, where today there is an abundance of timber products, but this image is far from international since it might be more damaging for the environment in other corners of the globe. [7]

[1] “WOOD INNOVATION DESIGN CENTRE.” The Canadian Architect; May 2015.
[2]“WOOD INNOVATION AND DESIGN CENTRE.” The Canadian Architect, May 2016.
[3] Wood Work!, and Canadian Wood Council. “Wood Innovation and Design Centre – A Technical Case Study.” Wood Works Canada. Wood Works!, December 2015.
[4] Penner, Derrick. “Prince George Centre Opens as Towering Presence in All-Wood Construction Sector.” Vancouver Sun . November 20, 2014. http://www.vancouversun.com/entertainment/prince george centre opens towering presence wood construction sector/10392940/story.html.
[5] Boddy, Trevor. “APOSTLE OF WOOD.” The Canadian Architect, November 2015.
[6] Canadian Architect. “Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George Opens.” The Canadian Architect. The Canadian Architect, November 4, 2014. https://www.canadianarchitect.com/wood-innovation-and-design-centre-in-prince-george-opens/
[7] Goubran, Sherif, Tristan Masson, and Thomas Walker. 2020. “Diagnosing the Local Suitability of High-Rise Timber Construction.” Building Research & Information 48 (1): 101–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/09613218.2019.1631700.

Project Title: Wood Innovation and Design Centre
Michael Green Architecture (MGA)
Place: Prince George, BC

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