Four Storeys in Twenty Days

Sarah Hicks

Element5 and Edge Architects recently collaborated to build a four-storey, 27000 square foot apartment building that was assembled and enclosed in just 20 days. YWCA in Kitchener-Waterloo’s 41-unit supportive housing project received funding from the federal government’s Rapid Housing Initiative. The first day was dedicated to getting the first mass timber materials on site, and by day ten, the thirst two floors were assembled. By the twentieth day, the building was fully assembled. Modern mass timber construction is transforming the way we build.

As we look to the future, we know the next big step in sustainable development involves the prefabrication of buildings off-site. Factory-built solutions are the key to the significant gains in construction efficiency and building performance that we need, not only to improve our built environment but also to reduce its carbon footprint. The environmental benefits of building with wood are well documented. Of the three principal building materials used today, wood is the only one that is renewable. From an ecological standpoint, wood is also the only material that can provide a net carbon benefit, helping mitigate climate change by providing long-term storage for atmospheric carbon. In a word, wood is the ‘sustainable’ choice.

Leading the mass timber charge in Canada is Element5, a dedicated team of designers, craftspeople, and assembly experts. Element5 serves a community of forward-thinking architects, owners, developers, and general contractors to help effect change by providing timber construction cost consulting, design consulting, engineering, fabrication, and assembly services. They worked closely with the architect to develop an optimized CLT grid based on their St. Thomas manufacturing plant’s production specs. 

The optimized design and modular construction approach generated cost savings that enabled the mass timber solution to beat out numerous other ‘affordable’ designs during the bid process. Taking advantage of manufacturing efficiencies helped drive down cost. Furthermore, the decision to use prefabricated mass timber components for the structure and building envelope significantly reduced the construction schedule. This modular delivery method offers cost savings over a strictly site-built project, where building components are factory-built and then rapidly assembled on-site.

With access to Rapid Housing Initiative funding from Waterloo Region and CMHC, the YW of Kitchener-Waterloo had an incredible opportunity to continue their mission to support homeless women in the community by constructing a new housing development designed for safety, accessibility, and inclusivity. Mass timber has allowed for fast, healthy, and sustainable housing redefining affordable housing with off-site modular solutions. A team led by Edge Architects was selected as the successful proponent to deliver this project through a competitive request for proposal process.

Edge Architects is a professional Architectural consulting practice based in Waterloo, Ontario, a region known as the Creative Capital of Canada. They thrive on collaboration to create enriched work that balances aesthetics and performance, construction costs, and scheduling and ensures project objectives are not only achieved but exceeded. They are passionate about sustainable design and innovative construction. They have invested heavily in exploring mass timber, high performance, and modular building technologies, making them the perfect partners for this project. 

The team was tasked with delivering 41 compact yet accessible 1-bedroom transitional housing units on a challenging property within 1-year of contract award. The design response achieved optimal site utilization through a narrow building form comprised of prefabricated cross-laminated timber structural elements in an arrangement that maximized material efficiency and minimized the installation time. The mass timber elements were exposed to impart a sense of warmth and well-being.

Thoughtfully designed using energy-efficient modular construction, the building features timber framing and CLT floor, roof, and wall panels. CLT substitutes typical building materials such as concrete, masonry, and steel one for one combined modular panel. This allows for a more cost-efficient and resilient system. The exterior of the building consists primarily of EIFS with punch-style residential windows and an exposed concrete style façade.

Concrete and steel production, upon which we have relied for the last 150 years to build cities, is the leading cause of the world’s current CO2 crisis. As the world rapidly approaches 9 billion people – three times what it was in less than a single lifetime – our fragile planet is desperate for sustainable alternatives. The unifying vision of those who drive the revolution, Element5 among them, sees timber as the essential building material of the 21st century.

Sarah Hicks is a Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Element5 based in Toronto, Ontario. Previously, Sarah was a Spokesperson at the Canadian Wood Council. With more than 15 years in the industry, Sarah brings excellent insight into the growing role of mass timber in Canada.

You might also like