Quality of construction, ease and speed of assembly, along with building costs, are factors architects must carefully evaluate when preparing designs for a new breed of all-wood midrise residential developments in Ontario.
"As architects, technologists and designers, we need to be creative in providing the kind of densities that municipalities and new building code provisions are aiming for and still provide the housing products that builders know and want to build," said Marco VanderMaas, director of design at Q4 Architects Inc., a Toronto residential architectural firm.
VanderMaas gave a seminar recently at a workshop on six-storey wood residential, presented by Ontario Wood WORKS! at the Paramount Centre in Vaughan.
Q4 Architects set up a "midrise studio" to meet the new design challenges, he said, adding design preparation and communication between all stakeholders including the community and municipal officials is critical to success.
He said wood midrises offer "lots of options to panelize and provide tools on site. Understanding them is essential to get the job done."
"Once the trades understand that building taller wood construction is a more sophisticated way of building, they can have systems in place to deal with strapping and other measures and complications readily and quickly," he said.
"These are the places that people really want to live now,"
Q4 Architects Inc.
Steven Street, technical director at WoodWORKS!, added that front-end meetings between the architect and the engineered wood system supplier are critical.
"It's no use working on a 16-foot grid in your design, for example, when the factory can only provide a 12-foot panel," he explained.
Through improved construction sequencing and logistics, there is a cost savings to panelization.
"But it means we (designers and building trades) have to talk to each other to find new ways of organizing the work," VanderMass said.
Approximately two years ago, when the Province of Ontario introduced six-storey wood construction, VanderMaas was part of a design team on the development of a six-storey woodrise teaching module at the College of Carpenters and Allied Trades in Woodbridge. That to-scale module incorporates details required to build the six-storey structure, offering carpenter apprentices an opportunity to learn the ropes while still in school.
The architect pointed out that the design community must also develop new housing types to suit their surroundings.
"There is an opportunity for (design) diversification because wood is traditionally tied to the building material of choice for residential features such as porches, trellises and walkways," he said.
Q4 is exploring such conceptual designs as "spider stacks" — six-storey back-to-back townhouses — that take stacked townhouse designs "a step further," offering "generous terraces" and minimizing common corridors and circulation requirements.
VanderMaas said a key design challenge is creating buildings that allow residents to live their old lifestyles while intensifying their neighbourhoods and maintaining housing affordability.
Wood midrise and taller wood structures are part of the "the missing middle" — residential typologies between single detached homes and highrises, he told the seminar. The fledgling wood breed should fit into higher density neighbourhoods such as Cornell Village, a planned community in Markham, Ont. that turns conventional suburban planning on its head.
The first phase of a six-storey apartment building designed by Q4 recently broke ground at Cornell which in some areas positions two- or three-storey residential with commercial at grade close to streets, VanderMaas said.
Cornell is inspired by established Toronto neighbourhoods like the Annex and Riverdale.
"These are the places that people really want to live now," he said.
As a young architectural graduate in the 1990s in Toronto, VanderMaas landed work in the yacht building industry. He learned about high-tech design and construction plus "performance, esthetics and creature comforts all wrapped in a beautiful product" — traits that can be translated to the residential world, he said.