Why is everybody talking about Mass Timber?

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.

Building with wood cladding

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.

Seattle. Vancouver. Minneapolis. Brumunddal. London. Tokyo. Arkansas.

Scroll down to discover some of the world’s most iconic mass timber buildings…

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Timber construction detail

Mjøstårnet timber tower
Brumunddal, Norway

  • The tallest timber wooden building on earth: a towering 85.4m high!
  • Features 18 floors, a hotel, offices, and residential apartments.
  • Elevator shafts made entirely from CLT.
  • Columns made from glued laminated timber (glulam).
  • Completed March 2019.
Building with vertical external wood cladding

T3 Minneapolis
Minnesota, North America

  • Short for "Timber, Technology, Transit".
  • Office building comprised of seven storeys, 220 sq. foot timber construct.
Curved timber construction detail

Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus
California, North America

  • The largest mass timber building on earth: 643,000 sq. ft.
  • Fits 2,000+ microsoft employees.
  • This two-storey expansion achieved several sustainability goals: LEED Platinum, LBC. Petal, WELL v2 Pilot, ILFI Net Zero Carbon certifications.
Building with vertical external wood cladding

Brock Commons Tallwood House
Vancouver, North America

  • Designed as a student residence, this University of British Columbia structure reaches 53 meters in height.
  • 18 storey building.
  • Completed in 2017, it held the title of world’s tallest mass timber building until the Mjøstårnet tower’s completion.
  • Uses hybrid construction model of concrete cores, prefabricated steel and mass timber frame. Features glulam columns and a grid of cross-laminated timber panels.
Building with horizontal timber louvres

The Ascent
Milwaukee, North America: Scheduled 2022

  • This 25-storey mass timber apartment building will be the tallest building of its kind when opened in summer 2022.
  • When complete, The Ascent will rise to 283 feet tall.
  • Comprised of glulam and CLT composites.
Women looking out from the top of a glass staircase

The Atlassian
Sydney, Australia: Scheduled 2025

  • Currently under construction, the future HQ for Atlassian will be the world’s tallest hybrid timber tower...at over 40 storeys in height.

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.

Man arranging cut wooden planks

At Canfor, we work at the very beginning of this journey. It’s given us a unique perspective into one of the world’s most rapidly evolving and vital industries.

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Let’s dive in.

Microsoft Brings Silicon Valley Campus To Life

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.

Woman explaining to another woman

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.

Man using laptop outside

The magnitude and speed of the world’s environmental changes have made it increasingly clear that we must do more. And we are taking new steps to do just that.

Brad Smith, Microsoft President & Chief Legal Officer

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.

Chapter 1

A Story of Resilience and Regeneration

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.

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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.

Window of building surrounded by plants

Mass timber is very exciting. It’s a long-term durable product. It’s a critical carbon storage tool.

Mark Rudnicki, Professor of Practice for Forest Biomaterials, Michigan Technological University

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.

Think you know your CLT from your DLT? How about the circular economy? Master mass timber’s key players in our extensive glossary, here.

View the glossary;
Ipad displaying Mass Timber page

Sustainable forestry is key to providing the products needed to shape mass timber’s future and help address climate change. But what does this mean in practice?

Aerial shot of forest

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.

A man walking through a greenhouse with growing plants

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).

Woman analysing tree sample

The question is, how can the industry commit to sustainable practices while navigating something else...mass timber’s complex value chain?

Chapter 2

No Ordinary Value Chain

The responsible oversight of wood products demands unique considerations.

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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.

A man surveying timber

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.

They mean active community engagement, sharing goals in conserving, promoting and sustaining the environment. And it means preserving forests for future generations.

Chapter 3

The never-ending mission: Explore Canfor’s sustainability practices in numbers.

A couple sat on a window ledge

Chapter 4

Strong Foundations, Strong Relationships

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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.

And that’s where Canfor does things differently.

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:

We thrive on building long-lasting, mutually beneficial, strategic partnerships with our customers.

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Go above and beyond

Relationships power business success. We’re committed to going the extra mile to help our customers win...and become more resilient.

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Transformative supply chain

We’re committed to providing a connected digital experience that offers greater transparency and enhanced customer service.

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A partner

We’re more than a commodity: We tailor our global products and services to meet our customers’ needs.

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We work in tandem with our customers to find sustainable, innovative solutions to their most complex problems.

Chapter 5

No Longer A Tall Order

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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.

North America is well-positioned to revolutionize its building practices to make mass timber the new construction standard, and level up to the calibre of the prominent and long-established industry in the European Union.

Hardy Wentzel, CEO of Structurlam Mass Timber Corporation
A couple sat on a window ledge

Mass timber presents almost unimaginable opportunities for both the construction industry and the world more generally, and Canfor is well positioned as the cornerstone in this new building revolution.

Don Kayne, CEO, Canfor

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.

Man standing on timber construction

For more insights into mass timber’s future, or for specialist advice, get in touch...

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