Marvels like Eiffel Tower in the offing.
By Mala Ashok
A Canadian company, based in Vancouver, has proposed a timber skyscraper for the Paris skyline.
The Vancouver firm of Michael Green Architecture (MGA) is participating in the Reinventer Paris Urban Revitalisation Competition. Its main feature is the sustainability. It features a roof garden that would provide a community space with restaurants, cafes, garden spaces and bicycle rentals.

Vancouver architect Michael Green, who specialises in building skyscrapers out of wood timbers, has a role in this audacious proposal to search for innovations in urban design and sustainability capable of revitalising Parisian architecture.

A 35 storeys, the wooden tower Green’s team’s proposal would have to be approved as an exception to Paris’ existing height limits for wood structures.

Green sees the opportunity to showcase wood as a sustainable, carbon-sequestering building material in Paris, and make as grand a statement as the Eiffel Tower did in 1889.

They proved out a lot of their methods by building the more modestly scaled, 29.5-metre Wood Innovation and Design Center in Prince George, British Columbia which opened late last year.

That included testing to ensure the timber panels and beams wouldn’t easily catch fire and would meet the same building code requirements that apply to steel and concrete structures.

Now, with the Reinventer Paris Competition, “All of a sudden this is a great opportunity, why not make Paris the city to celebrate it first?” Green asked.

For the contest, the Paris authorities offered 23 sites around the city for potential redevelopment, seeking proposals that demonstrate architectural, social and environmental innovations to help revitalise the city.

“We are issuing this call for innovative urban projects in order to prefigure what the Paris of tomorrow might be,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo said in a statement on the competition’s website.

The city has approved 650 of 815 applications submitted for the first stage of the competition. The response has been global as well with proposals coming from 15 countries as far away as Brazil, Singapore and South Korea.

“This is the largest site that was available, and it will be highly competitive,” Green said. At this point, Paris officials haven’t even said how many other proposals have been made for the same site.

The development would revitalise what is now the surface parking lot for a bus depot with a mix of market and social housing, a student hotel and urban agriculture.

Green said the depot, the main bus link to the Beauvais airport outside Paris that serves mainly low-cost airlines, will remain at the base of development. The buildings will be elevated over the top with walking and bike paths not unlike New York City’s High Line.

He is hedging that although the height of the buildings exceeds zoning limits, its stepped design will help soften the impact of the other big exceptions on the skyline.

The French government has also taken a renewed interest in increasing the amount of wood used in construction, Green said, which they hope is good timing for their proposal.

Green’s firm is writing something of a sequel to his original report, a book documenting the rise of tall wood buildings, and he said, he is “blown away” by the momentum behind wood construction.

MGA is working on the 18-storey student residence at University of British Columbia and has made proposals to build similarly tall “hybrid” structures in Vancouver, buildings combining a lot of wood with concrete and steel. However, using wood is a matter of “finding the right building type, the right application.”

Wood plays a fabulous role in buildings and is very much underutilised, said, but it is also the weakest of construction’s triumvirate of wood-steel-concrete, so “with high rises, in one her to pick its spots.”

Buildings like hotels, student residences or social housing would fit in the category of easier to build.


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