Vancouver Backs 25-Storey CLT Tower To Ease Rental Squeeze!

The City Council has controversially waived balcony requirements as British Columbia looks to accelerate mass timber construction.

Tue 06 Feb 24


A new 25-storey “build to rent” tower will rise in Vancouver after the new tower was approved by the Vancouver City Council late last week.

It comes as Canada’s third largest province, British Columbia, is changing its construction code – next month – to allow developers to build all-timber buildings up to 18 storeys – a 50% increase permitted under the existing code. 

As the Vancouver-based Daily Hive reported, the new project is part of the Westbank’s Main Alley tech campus. It is the first residential addition to a precinct that, to date, has been heavily commercially focused.

Coinced “Prototype” or M5, a reference to this project being a taller mass timber case study and the fifth building on the campus, will carry 100% purpose-built rental housing for its residential uses on top of a 1,800 square metre floor plate made.

image 9
Is timber in the future mix for Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and cities across Canada? Wood Central has used AI technology to look at a future Vancouver skyline with mass timber buildings. (Photo Credit: Wood Central)

It is the latest mass timber project to be constructed for the booming build-to-rent market, with global developers favouring cross-laminated and glue-laminated timbers due to their speed in construction.

The project, which has a concrete core, will be visually distinct with its mass timber checkerboard facade, with the developers convincing city planners to waive requirements for traditional balconies due to concerns over moisture penetration between floor slabs.

According to Gregory Henriquez of Henriquez Partners Architects, the reason is that there are significant risks of moisture getting into the CLT floor slabs. 

“Over the years, all of our buildings have had an issue with water penetration and leakage. CLT floor slabs are very vulnerable to moisture,” he said before adding, “The amount of extra money bolting on steel balconies is exceptionally scary.”

“We believe projecting steel balconies will be damaging to the project’s financial survival and dangerous in terms of liability,” Mr Henriquez told a public hearing before noting that the development team had been working with city officials on the proposal for years.

“I’m not willing to take liability the rest of my life with this building with balconies. If it is not approved with private balcony removals, this will become a concrete building.”

Gregory Henriquez, the leading architect responsible for the proposal.

Instead of private balconies for every unit, the developers will provide a north-facing communal balcony on every third floor for eight communal balconies, with each unit (210 in total) 2 or 3 Juliet balconies (598 total).

image 10
Artistic rendering of the project reveals that traditional balconies will be installed on every third level. The architect responsible for the project revealed that moisture leakage between CLT slabs was the primary concern. (Photo Credit: Henriquez Partners Architects/Westbank)

According to Doug Smith, the city’s acting chief planner, the controversial decision could provide a precedent for future mass timber buildings.

“Staff do not agree with the assertion that mass timber cannot deliver balconies. If the Council amends the condition to remove the requirement, we’d unlikely get balconies in future mass timber buildings. It sets a precedent,” according to Mr Smith.

“Staff would not recommend Council change policy to enable just one project as much as this is innovative and interesting.”

Nonetheless, the Council approved the request amid concerns that the architect would not want to put their name on this mass timber project with traditional balconies as the technology is unproven. Before noting that while there is significant interest in mass timber construction, “not many projects are crossing the line towards construction.”

image 12
The project will feature a distinctive mass timber checkerboard facade instead of traditional balconies. (Photo Credit: Henriquez Partners Architects/Westbank)

Green Councillor Adriane Carr states that the project-specific exemption will not set a negative precedent, as balconies are desirable marketable developer features.

“I will remind everybody of the leaky condo crisis within the city, where it seemed fine at the time, but look at the impact,” she said, reminding councillors of a leaky condo crisis that plagued the city in the 1990s.

“It was horrendous, and we didn’t know then that architectural design and building style would lead to that problem. We’re a city of rain, and we’ll probably see more rain in the future because of climate change,” according to Councillor Carr.

“I’m willing to take the risk of that, knowing and believing that developers will not use this as an excuse to give up open space for the benefit of the families and people who live in the buildings or give up balconies entirely because they tend to be desirable in the marketplace.”

image 11
Artistic rendering of the Main Alley Campus with the Prototype/M5 building located at street level. (Photo Credit: Henriquez Partners Architects/Westbank)

The decision should be left up to the private market to decide, according to Councillor Lenny Zhou.

“The less regulation governments get involved with, like this, the better. We have to understand the diverse housing needs across the city, and I’m pretty sure we can easily find 200 families in this city who are okay with living in a condo without a balcony,” Councillor Zhou said.

For Councillor Mike Klassen, the balcony exception is about kick-starting mass timber construction and providing significant new rental housing stock amid a housing crisis across Vancouver.

“We’re not doing this for your average concrete tower,” Councillor Klassen said before adding, “This is really in recognition of getting this project moving.”

Mass timber restrictions will not limit the tower’s height, but instead, the artificial ceiling of the height restriction imposed by the protected mountain View Cone 3 emanating from Queen Elizabeth Park.

The Canadian government is reviving a war-time plan for pre-approved home designs to accelerate nationwide building. CBC breaks down why it takes so long to build housing in Canada and whether a new version of the plan could help – footage courtesy of @cbcnews.

The approval comes as the Truduea-led government turns back the clock and implements a new “Quick Build” housing strategy, addressing surging rental prices across Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.

Accordingly, it is now using a catalogue of pre-approved home designs to reduce the cost and time to construct homes, in return to a concept previously used after the Second World War when thousands of returning soldiers needed housing.

The policy has the backing of Canadian Federal Housing, Infrastructure and Communities Minister Sean Fraser, who recently floated the idea that Canada should follow the government’s wartime housing strategy as a solution.

The catalogue will also feature multiple designs in each category. A government official told Bloomberg overnight that it is “open to modular, panelisation, mass timber, and possibly 3D-printed home designs.”


  • Wood Central

    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


Related Articles