Robert Malczyk, a principal from Equilibrium Consulting Inc and Oliver Lang, an architect and partner at Lang Wilson Practice in Architecture Culture Inc. presented “Ready? Set. Reset!” at the 2016 International Wood Symposium in downtown Vancouver.

Lang began by explaining that his firm looks at different ways of using building envelopes and said there’s the possibility of a paradigm shift from limited one-off developments to a “generative model for the sustainable metropolis of the future.” Lang said rather than thinking about Vancouver in isolation, it is better to look at building in the context of the Pacific Rim. Across that region, population is shifting to cities from rural living.

“Looking out further, we’ll need to house up to 4.8 billion people on this planet in the next 30 to 40 years,” Lang said, adding that at the same time we face the threat of climate change.

At the same time, communications has radically changed and it’s difficult to predict where we’ll be 25 to 35 years from now. “25 years ago, we barely had internet, there were no smartphones and we had just started the process of globalization,” he said.

What’s needed, Lang said, is a performance-based platform that is adaptable. When looking at other industries, the dominant paradigm is platform design, where you create one thing and use technology to create a platform from that one thing.

“From this platform, you can get many variations,” he said.

When you look at smartphones, he added, there’s an infrastructure to the phone that allows for a million different apps to operate on the platform. Lang also introduced the idea of “mass customization,” which combines artisanal work and industrialization. The concept has evolved into “adaptive customization,” which allows end users to add and adapt the product to their liking.

There is even “co-creation” such as 3D printing, which Lang termed as “deep customization.”

In terms of wood, these ideas mean bringing contractors in at the design phase, which he said helps increase efficiencies.

What’s holding the industry back is one-off designs, simplistic building systems, restrictive codes, linear supply and distribution chains and short term profit thinking.

There is also a lack of prototyping and collaboration, as well as resistance to innovation. State of the art design tools are not commonly used and there is a lack of use of CNC and robotic technology.

Malczyk explained that most times a smaller building is wood frame. “There’s nothing wrong with wood frame, it’s a flexible material, he said, but he added that it is being stretched too far when it is used in five to seven-storey buildings.

He added that there isn’t enough wood or enough designers, pilot projects, pre fabrication, mass timber or erectors. Bringing experts in from Europe, who use different methods is also problematic, he said.

Malczyk also said interest and momentum has been lost for wood projects, with more of an emphasis on concrete and steel.

Steel frame is “moving into our territory,” Malczyk warned, and said the wood construction industry “needs to do better.”

Price is also a problem. There isn’t the standard pricing in wood that there is in concrete masonry and steel. “The conclusion is then made that wood is unreliable,” Malczyk said.

With steel if you need specifications, you get them, and this doesn’t happen in wood. “We have a lot of work to get to that point,” he said. “Are we ever going to do more than pilot projects?” he asked.

The International Wood Symposium is taking place the Vancouver Convention Centre on Jan. 22. Speaker are discussing the future of wood in a built environment of bigger, taller and more complex buildings. Keep checking back for more blogs and stories from the event or follow us and join the conversation on Twitter here.