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Report on the Michael Green Lecture

By Ontario Association of Architects



For the last several years, the Ontario Association of Architects has made it part of their mandate as a regulatory body to become advocates for sustainability in the design and building industry.  Many of these initiatives are developed through our advisory group, the Sustainable Built Environments Committee (SBEC), whose objectives include building energy literacy in Canada and demonstrating sustainable leadership to the architectural profession.

Recently, the SBEC had the opportunity to attend the Michael Green lecture Plant, Cut, Repeat: Natural solutions to complex problems hosted by Wood WORKS! Ontario. Michael is principal of Michael Green Architecture (MGA) a practice based in Vancouver and New York, which is known for its innovative use of wood and wood products in its buildings. More notably, Michael participated in a TED talk which unveiled his current research into developing a model for 30+ storey wood-frame skyscrapers.

From the perspective of a province which is only now looking to permit 6-storey wood frame buildings—a height that B.C. has allowed since 2009—this concept seems almost futuristic, however; if you look at the facts, it could present as a reasonable proposal. The drive behind MGA’s model is based on the (U.S.) statistic which maintains that buildings contribute 47% of CO² emissions—only slightly less than transportation and industry combined. This is coupled with another pressing issue that is affecting major cities: the need for housing that is affordable. According to MGA’s research, urbanization will increase to 75 percent by 2040, meaning that three billion people in the world will need a new home in the next 20 years. 

Green argues that wood, as the only building material that can store carbon and reduce emissions, is part of the solution to solve not only the world’s housing problem but also climate change. He believes that the proposed wooden high-rises would have the potential to sequester over 3000 tonnes of CO² (equivalent to removing 900 cars from the road), while other types of buildings would emit over 1000 tonnes. 

Structurally, the buildings would be made of mass timber panels; a material that is comprised of smaller pieces of wood that are glued together to form larger members. Michael emphasizes that building with a renewable resource like wood will allow for cities to continue in a sustainable pattern of development. A pattern like the title of his lecture proposes: plant (the trees) - cut (them down) - build (with wood) – repeat (the cycle).

So how can this apply to Ontario? 

According to Green, the next step for Ontario is to adopt policy that allows for 6-storey wood-frame buildings, citing the Wood Innovation Design Centre and the Prince George Airport as his own successful examples of mass-timber panel projects. He reasons that as a society we have put prescriptive limits on possibilities and that we, as architects, need to ask ourselves how we want to design for the next 20 years. Some of these prescriptive limits, he readily points out, have been implemented because of the challenges encountered when building large-scale wood projects. These challenges include fire safety (especially during construction) and ensuring that wood is sourced from responsibly-managed forests. 

Moving Forward

Although the only wood you will find at our Headquarters is on our railings and guardrails, our call to take action is similar. The OAA made a commitment to participating in the 2030 Challenge in 2009; a rigorous energy-efficiency program that looks to reduce carbon emissions in the building sector to net zero by 2030. As we move forward with our carbon-neutral retrofit, the OAA looks to set a strong example for the design industry. The OAA also hopes the Headquarters building will continue to be used as an educational tool for up-and-coming architects and members of the public. For more on this, check out our zero carbon emissions plan here.

Source: Ontario Association of Architects. April 17, 2014.