Mass-timber construction for residential tower uses will be pushed to new limits in British Columbia, following Vancouver City Council’s approval last week of a 260 ft, 25-storey tower project. This represents an upcoming phase of Westbank’s Main Alley tech campus and the first residential addition to an otherwise job-space-focused complex of buildings. The tower, named “Prototype” or M5, a reference to this project being a taller mass timber case study and the fifth building at Main Alley, will replace the surface vehicle parking lot at 2015 Main Street — the northwest corner of the intersection of Main Street and East 4th Avenue on the easternmost edge of the Mount Pleasant Industrial Area.
This tower will carry 100% secured purpose-built rental housing for its residential uses on top of nearly 6,000 sq ft of retail/restaurant uses on the ground level. Like other taller mass timber buildings currently being built in Vancouver, this design uses cross-laminated timber (CLT) components that are pre-fabricated off-site before being delivered for assembly and installation. This project is also made visually distinct with its mass timber checkerboard facade.
For seismic and fire safety considerations, taller buildings built out of mass timber have a concrete core, which also serves to conceal the elevator and staircase wells, and Prototype/M5 is no exception to this design. But during the public hearing, the proponents told City Council they were ready to completely drop the mass timber design and revise their project into a conventional concrete tower if they were to be forced to follow City staff’s direction by incorporating traditional private balconies for every unit. Gregory Henriquez of Henriquez Partners Architects made a plea to City Council asking for an exemption from the balcony requirement, asserting that providing private balconies would compromise the design of the building due to water leakage risk into the CLT floor slabs and the significant costs. If private balconies were to be achieved, they would be steel balcony structures bolted onto the building’s exterior.