New Bentall tower to be Hybrid Mass Timber

September 24, 2021

By: The Working Forest Staff

VANCOUVER SUN — Owners of Vancouver’s Bentall Centre office buildings are proposing to add a 16-storey hybrid mass-timber office tower to their signature complex in downtown Vancouver in the middle of a boom for engineered-wood construction.

CAPTION: Artist rendering of the Burrard Exchange, a proposed 16-story, 450,000 new office tower in Vancouver’s central Bentall Centre complex. PNG

Called the Burrard Exchange, the 450,000-sq.-ft. development would be built with timber beams and cross-laminated panels around a concrete core and would become one of North America’s largest buildings to use engineered wood-techniques.

It adds to a growing inventory of mass-timber developments in B.C., which the province is banking on as the new face of B.C.’s forest industry, producing more high-value engineered-timber products rather than high-volume commodity lumber.

“We saw it as an opportunity to feature a sustainable natural resource that is so important to B.C.’s economy,” said Chuck We, senior vice-president of western Canada for Bentall co-owner Hudson Pacific Properties. The project will “add what we really think is a beautiful piece” to downtown’s signature office complex, We said.

On the building’s cost, We would only say, “mass timber, I think many people will acknowledge, is a premium to conventional construction,” but Hudson Pacific expects the added cost to pay off in the carbon neutrality of its construction and attractiveness of its exposed-wood finishes to future tenants.

The proposed size of Burrard Exchange will add space equivalent to about a third of Bentall’s existing 1.5 million square feet in five buildings.

Designed by lead architect Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, with the Vancouver office of Adamson Associates Architects, Burrard Exchange’s plans boast 14-foot-high ceilings and expansive floor plans with extensive use of exterior terraces.

Located on the east side of Thurlow Street at the corner of Everleigh, the service lane that splits the Bentall complex, the building is destined to replace an existing parkade. The overall development would include a 20,000-sq.-ft. plaza facing Pender Street.

“Our hope is to try and source (materials) as locally as possible. That’s part of our (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation, trying to source materials locally,” We said. They will be competing with projects including eight that are part of a mass-timber demonstration program supported by the B.C. government.

The province launched that initiative last year with $4.2 million from the specially created Forestry Innovation Investment fund, which is offering elements of preliminary support to projects that includes a 21-storey apartment building by the developer Westbank on Main Street in Mount Pleasant.

Artist renderings of the Burrard Exchange, a proposed 16-story, 450,000 new office tower in Vancouver’s central Bentall Centre complex, which owner Hudson Pacific Properties wants to build using mass-timber wood components. That will make it one of North America’s biggest hybrid mass-timber developments. PNG

A 10-storey mixed-use commercial building, being developed by BentallGreenOak (Canada) is another building in the demonstration program, which is large at 162,000 square feet, but still only a fraction of the proposed Burrard Exchange.

“(Competition for materials) is a concern,” We said. “Mass timber is very popular across North America right now. (But) we’ve got several great producers that are right in B.C.”

Their success will need “smart procurement of timber products,” said industry expert Peter Fast, a Vancouver-based structural engineer and principal with the firm Fast + Epp, a local pioneer in engineered-timber construction.

“Given the current interest in mass timber, we anticipate supply chains will start to be strained,” Fast said in an email, but it is “great to see a developer with such ambitious goals.”

If Hudson Pacific can pull it off, Burrard Exchange will stand as an important example in a sector mostly dominated by low- to mid-rise development, said Lynn Embury-Williams, executive director of the industry group WoodWorks! B.C.

“We’ve sort of been waiting to see if larger developers will jump in,” Embury-Williams said. “I think it’s good news. You hope they’re able to follow through and get going, because when you have that kind of expertise and experience in these big buildings, they help the industry move forward.”

The development is also helpful news for B.C.’s lumber producers, which have endured volatile swings in market prices, said Susan Yurkovich, CEO of the Council of Forest Industries.

“If you want to (build) more manufacturing facilities, you’ve got to have more demand,” Yurkovich said. “So this is important to have important buildings in downtown Vancouver, as well as every community in British Columbia.”

In the meantime, B.C. lumber producers face market prices that are below their break-even costs, Yurkovich said, so having higher-value domestic uses for their products would be welcome.

“Every stick of lumber we use in British Columbia is also not attracting (U.S. softwood lumber) tariffs,” Yurkovich said. “The more we can use it here, it’s great for the industry.”

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