“Plyscrapers”, Cross-Laminated Timber, and The Canyons

Explore the rising trend of skyscrapers built from wood.

Here’s a word you should probably get used to hearing: plyscrapers. What are plyscrapers? They’re skyscrapers made of wood! The “ply” comes from plywood, although the term “plyscraper” is really just a play on words. We’re really talking about something called CLT or cross-laminated timber. (More on that in a bit!)

Vancouver’s Prairie Electric is happy to be a part of the latest and perhaps most innovative CLT construction project in North America: The Canyons on North Williams Avenue in Portland. Prairie is the electrical contractor for the Canyons, while Portland’s R&H Construction, in conjunction with Kaiser+Path, provides general contracting services.

The Canyons project is truly unique, providing “barrier-free” living spaces that are ideal for older residents, those with limited mobility, or people looking for a modern, accessible apartment that’s been thoughtfully designed “for comfort, connection, and safety.” (The Canyons is neither age- nor ability-restricted. All are welcome!)

R&H constructed The Canyons with cross-laminated timber, an innovative engineered wood product that is truly a sign of things to come in the United States. 

What Is Cross-Laminated Timber?

Producers make CLT by gluing beams of wood together perpendicularly to fashion layers of wood boards up to a foot thick. They’ve been utilizing CLT in Europe for a couple of decades now, but there’s been an uptick in interest here in the States over the lasts few years. And as time goes on, building methods and procedures are improving — as is the ability of designers to plan for taller construction projects. Plyscrapers!

The Pacific Northwest is at the forefront of CLT building systems in the U.S. In fact, D.R. Johnson, a wood products manufacturer in Riddle, Oregon, was the first company in the country to be certified to manufacture structural CLT panels. And Portland companies such as the architectural firm Lever and real estate developer Project^ have been awarded prizes in the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition.

Kaiser+Path (that’s Kaiser Group developers and Path Architecture) is leading the way with their cross-laminated timber designs and developments for tall urban buildings in the U.S. The future is in wood-building construction. Prairie Electric will be right there alongside developers, providing quality, reliable electrical installation services to these massive, important commercial builds.

Benefits of ‘Plyscrapers’ and CLT Construction

What are the benefits of CLT construction? Let us count the ways!

  1. It’s sustainable. Made from our region’s most renewable resource and sourced from trees that are 10 inches or fewer in diameter. Kaiser+Path says that harvesting these trees from dense forests helps prevent the spread of wildfires. Plus, builders can use CLT made from leftover sawmill scraps as well as newly harvested materials. Finally, according to Smithsonian magazine, “the buildings themselves become carbon sinks rather than carbon producers.”
  2. It’s good for business and industry. According to a 2015 editorial in The Oregonian/OregonLive, Oregon’s annual timber harvest is half what it used to be, representing a loss of more than 30,000 jobs since the mid-1980s. The increased appeal of CLT construction has reinvigorated a long-dormant timber industry.
  3. It requires less energy. According to Kaiser+Path, “CLT is lighter than steel or concrete, and requires less energy to produce, transport and assemble.”
  4. It’s super durable. CLT is stronger than steel and is one of the most seismically resilient building materials in the world. Why? Because the joints between boards help buildings dissipate energy more efficiently, minimizing the damage that can occur during an earthquake.
  5. It’s fire resistant. This sounds implausible at first, doesn’t it? A wood building is fire resistant? Well, yes, actually. Kaiser+Path says that wood chars on the outside. CLT creates a protective seal that prevents the inside of the wood beams from burning.
  6. It’s beautiful! On walls, floors, and outside entryways — wherever and whenever an appreciative eye falls on timber construction — wood is warm, inviting, and connects living spaces with the natural environment.

Other benefits of using cross-laminated timber CLT as a structural material: Faster construction times, improved thermal performance, and lots of versatility when it comes to quality control, building codes, and the timber building designs themselves.

Prairie Electric and The Canyons

One of the more creative and astonishing innovations the Canyons will feature is a Japanese-style alley running through the building filled with storefronts open to the public. Along with the building itself and the units that comprise it, this wonderful alleyway is another project that will keep Prairie Electric busy all summer, fall and into December. (The building will open in 2020.)

You can learn more about the Canyons project and about plyscrapers in general here.

Prairie Electric is an award-winning electrical contractor. We’ve served the residential and commercial communities of the Pacific Northwest for more than 35 years.

Contact Prairie Electric today to see what we can do for you.

And keep an eye out for the grand opening of The Canyons!

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