University of Toronto aims for North America’s tallest timber hybrid tower

Canada’s University of Toronto aims to build a 14-storey academic tower made of timber, which it says would be the tallest "mass timber" and concrete hybrid building in North America.

The exact height has not been released, however, as the building is still in the design phase, and the university is waiting for the city of Toronto to change zoning rules to allow such tall wooden buildings.

To be the tallest timber hybrid building in North America it would have to beat the current world-record holder in Vancouver, the Tall Wood Residence at the University of British Columbia, which is 18 storeys and 53m high.

Construction could begin at the end of 2019, the university said.

The tower will be built on top of the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport, and will house a number of academic units, including Rotman Executive Programs, and the Munk School of Global Affairs.

It will be financed in part by government grants intended to promote mass timber buildings in support of Canada’s timber industry.

The term "mass timber" has emerged in recent years to describe the use of solid or engineered timber components that bear loads in place of steel or concrete.

The tower was originally slated to be built using steel, but government incentives prompted the switch to timber.

U of T has hired Patkau Architects of Vancouver, MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects (MJMA) of Toronto, and Blackwell Structural Engineers – all of whom worked on the Goldring Centre, which opened in 2014.

The centre was itself designed to be the base for a future tower, so there will be no need to dig foundations, Ted Watson, a partner at MJMA, told the U of T press office.

U of T’s new tower will be built with cross-laminated timber (CLT), with many components manufactured offsite for quicker assembly.

"They really just show up almost like an Ikea set of parts," said Watson, adding that "a few workers can put a floor up in a few days with very little of the noise disruption that you see with steel and concrete buildings."

Although it is timber, the CLT elements will not need to be fireproofed, said Gilbert Delgado, U of T’s chief of university planning, design and construction.

"If you try to ignite a log with a match, you’ll find out how difficult it is to ignite," he said. "We’re talking about beams and columns that are much larger, much thicker, that are much more difficult to ignite."

The province of Ontario has also established a Mass Timber Institute (MTI) to study the benefits of wood construction. MTI’s interim director is Anne Koven, an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Forestry at U of T.

Top image: A 14-storey academic building made of wood is to be built on top of the University of Toronto’s Goldring Centre (Renderings courtesy of MJMA and Patkau Architects)

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