The final phase of the Main Alley tech campus in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant Industrial Area will be one of the world’s tallest mass timber buildings.
The provincial government announced this week a $500,000 grant has been awarded to local developer Westbank for the construction of a 21-storey rental housing tower that will demonstrate the feasibility of low-carbon tall wood construction for purpose-built rental housing.
The tower’s name, Prototype, is intended to be a model for future tall wood housing projects, including showcasing the cost effectiveness, the minimal construction elements required for each floor, and the quicker construction process compared to conventional methods.
The project design team — comprised of Henriquez Partners Architects and Glotman Simpson — is exploring the use of two mass timber hybrid systems. One system uses cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels in a way that reduces the cross-sectional area, while the second system is a post-beam-panel system comprised of beams spanning to steel or timber columns to support a one-way heavy timber panel.
The use of mass timber will contribute to the building’s high green rating to the extent that it will exceed the requirements of the City of Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building (ZEB) Plan — a 60% reduction over ZEB compliance, and an over 90% reduction in contrast to a conventional gas heated building.
Mass timber will be left exposed wherever feasible as an “architectural expression of warmth, texture, and tactility.”
There will be a total of 216 rental homes, with a mix of units affordable to moderate-income households.
Prototype, also known as the M5 building of Main Alley, would be constructed on the footprint of the existing surface parking lot at the northwest corner of the intersection of Main Street and East 5th Avenue.
This tower site is immediately south of the M1 building at 2015 Main Street — previously the former RBC processing and storage centre. The 1947-completed building was extensively renovated in 2019 as the first phase of Main Alley, with its main tenants being WeWork and an expansion office of Hootsuite.
The M2 building is a new-build construction project that will reach completion this year on the kitty corner of the same city block at 114 East 4th Avenue. It brings 175,000 sq ft of office space.
Another existing building on the campus is the 1977-built office building at 110 East 5th Avenue, immediately west of Prototype. There are plans to completely renovate this M3 building in 2027, including a new exterior skin replacing the current brick facade, and an expansion and upgrade of its cooling plant.
A 2020 report by the BC Utilities Commission notes the developer’s completion timeline for Prototype is 2029.
Altogether, Main Alley will have about 500,000 sq ft of tech office, creative industrial, and retail space through new-build and renovated construction.
Prototype’s grant funding comes from a combined $4.2 million provincial fund for 12 mass timber demonstration construction projects to help cover the incremental or first-time costs of mass timber design, development, permitting and construction activities, and research.
“The research projects will study mass timber’s fire performance, the costs relative to steel and concrete, and carbon benefits. All project innovations and best practices will be broadly shared to promote learning and further advance mass timber use province-wide,” reads a release.
Four other mass timber projects in Metro Vancouver each received $500,000 in funding, including BentallGreenOak’s planned 10-storey office building at 2150 Keith Drive next to SkyTrain’s VCC-Clark Station. This will be the new headquarters office for Nature’s Path.
Another recipient is Reliance Properties for its renovation and vertical expansion of a historic two-storey warehouse building at 837 Beatty Street into a six-storey office building.
The First Nations Health Authority received funding for pursuing a six-storey building for health and cultural uses on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver.
Over in West Vancouver, Bellevue Properties Partnership is a recipient for its planned eight-storey Passive House condominium building at 2204 Bellevue Avenue near the waterfront.
A slightly smaller grant of $475,000 has been provided to Happy Harvest for its plans to redevelop 249 Main Street — kitty corner from the former Vancouver Police headquarters — in the Downtown Eastside into an 11-storey building with 120 below-market rental homes.