Let’s play a little word association game. What springs to mind when you think of urban buildings? Office blocks? Construction? Skyscrapers?
Here’s our guess: if you’re like most people, you thought of default building materials. And certain ones in particular: Concrete. Bricks. Glass. Steel.
But did you think of wood? Probably not.
After all, we draw on what’s around us for answers. Conjure up a cityscape and your mind’s eye recalls certain items over others. Timber rarely features. Wood-based buildings belong in another time, or at least another place.
In theory, anyway. Because things are changing.
Perhaps the biggest building innovation in today’s era stems from the world’s oldest source. Engineering-wise it’s highly durable, a brilliant insulator and beautiful to look at. It’s also grabbing headlines as a sustainable, green-friendly solution.
So pull up a chair. It’s time to hear the story about construction’s resilient miracle product, and why everybody’s talking about it.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the story of mass timber.
Scroll down to discover some of the world’s most iconic mass timber buildings…
Mjøstårnet timber tower
Minnesota, North America
Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus
California, North America
Brock Commons Tallwood House
Vancouver, North America
Milwaukee, North America: Scheduled 2022
Sydney, Australia: Scheduled 2025
All around the world, timber architecture is evolving and emerging. Except this time, things are different. Mass timber diverges from traditional light-framing, via a helping hand from new technologies.
As an umbrella term, it covers several kinds of engineered products. But all share the same DNA. Instead of timber frame systems, they incorporate several timber layers—joined together using glue or mechanical fasteners. It results in solid panels of extreme strength that suit all kinds of building types.
It also provides the perfect partner for more established materials. Which is important, because mass timber’s credentials are quickly gaining ground. It can work as a hybrid solution with steel and concrete. And in many cases, it can be a solution on its own.
From a bird’s eye view, the forest industry threads across hundreds of different touchpoints: home improvers and small businesses, big box suppliers and fabricators; all the way to the forest itself.
Silicon Valley is synonymous with innovation. And not just the digital kind. Microsoft’s imposing campus boasts something physical, though just as impressive: one of North America’s largest mass timber buildings.
Over 2,000 employees call it their office. An extension of two repurposed buildings, Microsoft used customized, cross-laminated timber (CLT) to hit ambitious sustainability goals. The structure claims net zero water, LEED platinum and well building standard certifications.
The building does more than capture the eye. CLT’s naturally inviting aesthetic—exposed, wide—open interiors in warm, natural tones—lends itself to rapid construction, too.
Using CLT-concrete composites, the building’s designers were able to drop custom panels into place on site. Yep. They installed over 2,400 tonnes of mass timber panels in just six months.
Ever typed “mass timber” into a search engine? It’ll throw up all kinds of opinion pieces. But one theme in particular, resilience and regeneration, dominates the narrative.
Sustainability remains a driving force behind mass timber’s rise. Which makes sense. The construction industry has the opportunity to play a major role in fighting climate change. So in a world working to limit carbon emissions, it’s no surprise that more natural materials have become increasingly popular and in demand.
And even then, you can’t expect to build with wood from any forest. There’s the approved kind—recognized by relevant bodies—and the opposite.
Managed correctly and sustainably, forests are the ultimate source for carbon sequestration (in other words, absorbing CO2). This works when they absorb more carbon from the atmosphere (via the process of photosynthesis) than they release.
And healthy forests are the best mediums for doing exactly that.
Capturing carbon as they grow, the trees deposit CO2 via their trunks, their branches, and the soil around them. Although still useful for creating mass timber products, damaged or unhealthy trees prove less effective at CO2 absorption.
Responsible forestry becomes a story of resilience (younger trees fight back against carbon emissions using natural absorption) and regeneration (at some point they are replaced, and forests are actively replanted to make way for a new legion of carbon absorbers).
The responsible oversight of wood products demands unique considerations.
As we mentioned, it’s not enough to source and provide whatever happens to be available. The product’s fibre only qualifies as sustainable if its origins match certain conditions.
In other words, it needs to be harvested from safe sources, and under certain conditions.
At Canfor, the entire model for what we do revolves around sustainability best practices. That means being certified by recognized bodies: like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification ® (PEFC) and the Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC).
Because recognized sustainable practices go well beyond strategic replanting.
Or in other words, the potential to store about 64 million tonnes of carbon
Succeeding in a zero-waste policy with the logs we use
In the last 20 years
Of young forests managed by Canfor across British Columbia and Alberta
At Canfor’s nursery for the annual tree-planting program
Of all Canfor-managed forests in Canada
Like any manufacturing arc, mass timber needs a catalyst. But almost all long-term success comes from strong roots. Simply providing the raw materials alone won’t cut it in a highly sensitive environment.
Because we pride ourselves on acting as a strategic industry partner—not just a cog in a series of transactions. We act as a solutions provider. Not only a product provider. And as the foundational element for the industry, we feed into several areas. We have built our reputation on the quality of our products, the reliability of our supply and our superior customer service. Here are four pillars that frame the remarkable customer experience we strive to provide every day:
Relationships power business success. We’re committed to going the extra mile to help our customers win...and become more resilient.
We’re committed to providing a connected digital experience that offers greater transparency and enhanced customer service.
We’re more than a commodity: We tailor our global products and services to meet our customers’ needs.
We work in tandem with our customers to find sustainable, innovative solutions to their most complex problems.
The likes of Brock Commons and Mjøstårnet’s tower rightly draw praise and attention on account of their vast heights. But in years to come, mass timber will only increase in demand.
And far from one-off, cloud-defying innovations, engineered wood products offer a perfect design code pathway for the mid-rise market: structures between five and seven storeys tall.
Mass timber can—and will—play a major role in construction’s sustainable future. And at Canfor, we’ve made providing high-quality wood products to our valued customers our life’s work.
Responsible. Resilient. The only limit is your imagination. Frame the future.