Critics pan glass buildings as developer envisions world’s tallest wooden tower in Vancouver

Thursday, August 8th, 2019

Critics shatter allure of glass buildings

Joanne Lee-Young
The Province

Vancouver, the City of Glass, known for its tall condo towers and their walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, is being asked to reassess its namesake form of building.

It comes as more architects, energy analysts and even politicians criticize such buildings for being among the biggest producers of carbon emissions.

In cities as diverse as London and New York, there is a discussion over whether all-glass buildings should be banned because they tend to trap heat and light. This makes them hard and expensive to cool in warm weather and the use of air conditioning on the rise. But they are also terrible for “leaking” energy and warmth.

The International Energy Agency estimates that about 40 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions in the world is tied to buildings and the construction of buildings.

“We have said before that ‘wood is good,” said Andy Yan, director of The City Program at Simon Fraser University.

Yan pointed to a recent B.C. Hydro report that said newer highrise buildings use twice as much electricity as those constructed in the 1980s.

“You have to say ‘what the hell?’ We have had a kind of faux sustainability that makes it look like we were being sustainable.”

Vancouver developer Bruce Langereis has been talking for some time about his vision for the world’s tallest wood tower on the city’s west side at a site on 8th Avenue and Pine Street. He is the president of Vancouver-based Delta Land Development. About a year and a half ago, a letter of inquiry was submitted to the City of Vancouver  to begin the process of getting a rezoning.

There’s still a considerable road ahead for the proposed 40-storey, mixed-use building to be designed by architects at Perkins + Will, for a location with mostly shorter buildings.

However, perhaps there could be a shift in thinking about development policies to encourage tall-wood construction, which so far, has been considered innovative and expensive, says Langereis.

 “A lot of the story has, so far, been all about tall wood. But that’s not the only part of it. Structure is only one aspect. The other part is about zero emissions and sequestering carbon.”

“The City of Vancouver has declared a climate emergency,” Langereis says. “Every city council has. And you can look at bike lanes and auto emissions, but there have been studies which put the number for glass buildings accounting for 40 per cent of (the world’s) carbon emissions.”

Langereis says it’s not to criticize tall, glass buildings, but to recognize that some of them are 20 or 30 years old.

Yan says there’s an opportunity for developers “to up their game” when it comes to looking at some different building practices. “The City of Glass was of a time when avocado green and burnt orange were de rigueur … and we are now looking for a way of building that is more sustainable.”

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