Building Toronto’s first modern wooden mid-rise has certainly been a learning curve, starting with where to get the construction materials.
Following the lead of British Columbia, Ontariochanged its building codes last January to allowwooden building structures of up to six storeys. First out of the gates in Toronto is Heartwood the Beach, a six-storey, 37-unit condo building by Fieldgate Urban and designed by Quadrangle architects to wear its wood soul right on its sleeve.
“We went with cross-laminated timber because we wanted it to be an expressively wood building,” says project principal Richard Witt. “Because it is very thick timber, the fire ratings are inherent in the wood. These slabs of wood can burn for three hours, similar to concrete. Because of that, it doesn’t need drywall protection and you can have the wood exposed on the ceilings and sometimes also the walls. Not having drywall is a huge advantage. You can be sitting on the couch and you look up and it’s wood. I don’t know if that’s ever been the case before, except for loft conversions.” Though the cladding of the building must be non-combustible, the designers are using Oko Skin on the exterior, a product that evokes planks of wood, and board-formed concrete where you can see the imprint of the wooden planks used in the form.
Though wood construction is considered to be somewhat cheaper than traditional concrete-and-steel construction techniques, these are still early days in the province and the supply chain can’t be described as particularly robust right now. Many of the components for Heartwood the Beach will be built with machines in a factory and then installed at the Queen East and Woodbine location, reducing the on-site construction time, as well as the on-site noise and dirt. But the Heartwood team has not been able to source cross-laminated timber in Ontario and is considering suppliers in British Columbia, Quebec and Germany. Yes, shipping components from Europe could be the best option. With four or five wooden mid-rise projects currently on the go after Heartwood starts in March, Quadrangle hopes more local suppliers will come online.
“After we’ve done a few of them, the potential for savings should be there,” says Witt. “People are beginning to think of wood construction. There’s a lot of interest in it. There’s also a lot of people who are waiting to see someone else do all the heavy lifting before they jump in once it’s all figured out.”