Craig Applegath and the Zero-Carbon Mass Timber Project

todayMarch 8, 2022


In 2022 Q2, we will be speaking to Craig Applegath, architect, urban designer, and zero-carbon building pioneer, on the Constructive Voices Podcast.

Craig has an impressive career that has seen him internationally recognised for his design and advocacy of zero-carbon regenerative buildings and cities, as well as mass timber design.

Training first as a biologist at the University of Toronto, before completing a Master’s of Architecture in Urban Design at Harvard University. This amalgamation of biology and architecture has driven Craig’s passion for planning and design solutions that make sense in a world challenged by climate change and environmental deterioration.    

Craig is a founding partner of DIALOG’s Toronto studio, where his role includes master planning and designing institutional projects like higher education and healthcare facilities, such as the recent Centennial College Zero-Carbon Mass Timber project.

Centennial College Zero-Carbon Mass Timber Project

The Centennial College Zero-Carbon Mass Timber Project is an indigenously inspired, zero-carbon, mass timber higher-education building. The six-storey addition will provide 150,000 square feet of academic programming space for School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science programs. The design for the expansion was based on the Indigenous concept of “two-eyed seeing,” in which people view the world through an Indigenous lens with one eye or perspective, while the other eye sees through a Western lens.

Taking this Zero-Carbon Mass Timber project to a new level, literally, Craig is involved in DIALOG’s “Supertall” Hybrid Wood Tower prototype, where the overall use of sustainably harvested wood is maximised in a highly cost efficient, energy efficient, and elegant tower.

Supertall” Hybrid Wood Tower

The “Supertall” Hybrid Wood Tower, at 105-storeys tall, was designed to showcase the potential of mass timber in improving both building sustainability and overall design and to challenge the belief that tall buildings cannot be zero carbon.

The “Supertall” Hybrid Wood Tower is among the most technically challenging structures to design, but it’s also a perfect typology for testing the limits of sustainable mass timber design and zero carbon design.

The design is flexible so that a potential development partner can adjust parameters and elements of the design, such as the height and floorplate, to suit a particular site. The proprietary hybrid timber floor panel system uses steel rods to add tensile strength to the pre-fabricated cross-laminated timber panels for the building’s walls. This means the wall can support additional weight.

The environmental sustainability of the building has many elements. One of the main ones is the carbon-capturing ability of wood itself. The photosynthesis process requires carbon in order to grow trees, meaning wood construction removes carbon from the atmosphere and holds it within the building. A building constructed to the exact specifications of DIALOG’s pitch would store more than 36,000 tons of carbon. 

Integrated photovoltaics on the south, east, and west façades can supply power for the building with battery storage for the additional power generated during off-peak hours. 

The building design also includes algae bioreactors. They are 1,500-cubic meter reactors that use carbon emissions to grow algae. The algae can be used as a secondary income source for human or animal food, biofuel, and other products. The reactors would be able to absorb all excess emissions, guaranteeing a carbon-neutral building.

To account for the effect that wind plays on tall structures, the structure is shaped orthogonally, gently curving out to meet the ground, conveying how the load is carried down to the ground. This is reminiscent of the way that a tree trunk performs the same task as it meets the earth.

Twenty First Century Imperative Podcast

Craig also hosts the Twenty First Century Imperative, a podcast that explores the question of how we will continue to live on our planet without destroying our biosphere. The podcast series that explores the insights, approaches, experiences of change-makers from various backgrounds, who are finding smart, effective ways to answer one or more of the three critical challenges of the Twenty First Century Imperative:

  1. How will we continue to live on our planet without destroying our biosphere?
  2. How will we repair and regenerate the environmental damage we have already caused?
  3. How will we successfully adapt to the escalating impacts of climate change?

Craig also writes, speaks and teaches about his research and design explorations at conferences and workshops internationally, including the UN Habitat III Conference in Prague, the World Future Council Conferences in Munich and Beijing, at the International Living Futures Institute Conference in Portland, and most recently, at the American Institute of Architects Students Conference in Toronto. 

Written by: Tara Flanagan

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