Living in wood: the Limberlost Place example

Since our homes have become our refuge, our workplace, our classroom, and everything in between, we’ve started to pay more attention to where and how we live. Some were fortunate to have access to nature and treed environments, while others didn’t and might have felt trapped. The problems that surfaced with health, both mental and physical, came into sharp focus than ever as a result of this new reality.

Humans are meant to be connected to nature, well-illustrated by numerous studies. This connection is embodied in biophilic design, a concept conceived by psychologist Erich Fromm in the 1960s which considers connectivity to nature and natural materials—like wood—important to health.

The well-being benefits of living in wood

Not only is wood beautiful, but it is also warmer to the touch because of its low thermal conductivity compared to other building materials which brings a balancing effect on moisture and humidity. In Japan, studies show that using interior design employing wood results in lower levels of stress, reduced blood pressure in classrooms and in hospitals, seeing wood grain patters can trigger memories in the brain, increase comfort, and even delay the negative effects of aging.

How could urbanites, especially southern Ontarians living in cities, potentially improve their health through their surroundings? Ontario is a fortunate breadbasket, rich in resources and human capital, but very spread out. The province is almost triple the size of Germany, has two time zones, several ecozones, four climate types, and is almost 1,700 km from north to south. This task seems enormous, but change is taking root.

The new Limberlost Place building

A new 10-story project in downtown Toronto on the waterfront campus of George Brown college, Limberlost Place, will bring the riches of the Ontario forest to city dwellers and offer a chance to work in wood. The building, scheduled to open in the summer of 2024, will be capable of generating all of the energy it uses and will store almost 13,000 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. The emissions avoided from this building is the equivalent of removing almost 4,000 automobiles off the road for a year.

While the building is expected to be around for a very long time, the building will have an end-of-life plan for its components, unlike most standard construction. As a result of the building’s design and purpose, components will not be sent to landfill, they will all be repurposed, reused, or composted.

Building Tall with Wood

Tall buildings made of wood represent a departure from the norm. This increases risk, so FPInnovations, the country’s largest not-for-profit R&D organization in the forestry sector is connecting facts to the growing desire of urbanites to return nature to the city in the most impactful way.

FPInnovations’ Technical Guide for Design and Construction of Tall Wood Buildings in Canada (2022 edition to be released shortly and free to download) is coordinated with the newly released 2020 National Building Code of Canada and provides all the data needed for players in the construction value chain, from architects to insurance planners, small business owners, construction companies, and public procurers.

Building operation and construction is one of the most carbon intensive segments of industrial growth globally, and sustainable construction is rightly gaining attention and cachet in Canada. An additional benefit to building in wood is that when a tree breathes in CO2, a damaging greenhouse gas, it becomes locked into the wood. This means wood used for building becomes a long-term storage solution for carbon.

Building in wood offers an opportunity to realize the mental and physical benefits of living in wood in urban settings, while playing a part in a sustainable future.