The mass-timber buildings “Platforms for life” allow residents to adapt their living space to their personal needs – time and time again. The deeply integrated ecosystem of design engineering, technology and precision manufacturing is also sustainable in every other way. This achievement was made possible by decades of research.
Canada is a land of forests. About 3.5 million square kilometers, or 38 percent of the country, is woodland. This puts Canada in third place worldwide; only Russia and Brazil have more. About 95 percent of Canadian forests are publicly owned and sustainably managed. The timber industry contributed some USD 23 billion to Canada’s economy in 2016, accounting for about 7 percent of the nation’s exports and providing over 210,000 jobs. Nearly half of the companies in the wood industry are engaged in the production of wood products and over a third are in the paper and paper products sector. The remaining roughly 20 percent is accounted for by forestry and timber transport.
Oliver Lang (left) is principal and creative director of Lang Wilson Practice in Architecture Culture (LWPAC) and president of Intelligent City, both based in Vancouver, Canada. Born in Germany, he studied architecture at the Technical University in Berlin, Germany, and at the Escuela Superior de Arquitectura in Barcelona, Spain. Lang holds a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University and was a lecturer and professor at several colleges and universities for 15 years, including Princeton, Columbia, the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the University of British Columbia.
He founded LWPAC with the architect Cynthia Wilson in 1999. The firm creates highly integrated and generative mixed-use housing systems and cultural projects. Among its many accolades, in 2008 LWPAC received the Governor General’s Medal, Canada’s highest recognition for the design of a built project, and from 2014 to 2016 three Urban Design Awards of the City of Vancouver.
In 2006, when Oliver Lang, Cynthia Wilson, and the LWPAC team attempted to build ROAR_one – an early predecessor to the project which has now received the LafargeHolcim Award Silver North America – they experienced that it can be hard to find contractors with knowhow that goes beyond the construction of typical residential structures of a few stories. The result: LWPAC decided on tabula rasa, completely rethought all their approaches and construction methods, and took a great financial risk. The architectural firm made virtue out of necessity and started Intelligent City (IC), a design-technology-fabrication company able to provide everything from initial design concept to handover of a finished building.
One of their products was the housing project MONAD, built in Vancouver in 2011. A fully prefabricated engineered and mass-wood structure measuring approximately 1,200 square meters, it is the prototype of the “Platforms for life” project. As a model building, it was conceived to show potential customers what the platforms for life concept is all about – flexibly applicable for any conceivable site and for building heights up to 16 stories. By 2020 builders in Canada can go higher than six stories if they use mass timber. LWPAC and IC can already deliver this through special regulation. Unlike the light-frame or stud construction used to build houses and low-rises, mass timber is made by bonding together thin layers of wood to create a material that is much stronger and more fire-resistant than lumber.