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REGULATORY RANT: Is Quayside key to fast-tracking high-tech construction and urban design?
September 12th, 2018 11:39 am     A+ | a-

Michael de Lint / RESCON

Big plans for Toronto’s waterfront

Manhattan-based Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, was selected by Toronto Waterfront to be its partner in developing a sensor-laden, pedestrian and transit-oriented “Smart City” district called Quayside, a 12-acre portion of Toronto’s 800-acre eastern waterfront (or Port Lands). Toronto Waterfront, a non-profit corporation, has a mission to revitalize the area bordering Queens Quay East, near Parliament Street. Quayside’s Terms of Reference call for world-class digital infrastructure supporting data-informed decision-making. So far, Sidewalk Labs, itself is not a builder, has invested US$50 million which is funding a series of public consultations.

Toronto’s Eastern Waterfront (Portlands) including Google’s Quayside.


Multi-storey wood buildings

Plans for a sustainable Quayside community include North America’s biggest development for timber buildings up to 30 storeys. In Europe, similar plans are in the works. Anders Berensen Architects, commissioned to develop a proposal for Stockholm’s central port area, has recently prepared a plan including 31 narrow timber skyscrapers.

Stockholm also has plans for its Port area: proposed “wooden sky scraper city.”

Off-site construction

In keeping with it’s technology focus, Quayside is interested in off-site modular and panellized construction, combined with 3D Building Information Modelling (BIM), transforming building construction into a manufacturing process. And with the use of Design for Manufacturability (DFM), anticipated issues can be fixed during the design phase when it’s easier to do so.

Large companies like Silicon Valley-based Katerra, which calls itself an “end-to-end building services provider,” are among those redefining the construction process. The firm, known to Google, designs and assembles buildings from structural components such as pre-engineered timber panels manufactured in the company’s own facilities. Ontario firms like H+ME Technology have been producing state-of-the-art panels using BIM modelling and robotic equipment for the past 10 years. This level of automation and integration fits well within the Quayside template.

A four-storey timber building with pre-fabricated glulam and CLT panels is shown under construction in downtown Toronto at Yonge and Charles.

RESCON president Richard Lyall says, “BIM, DFM, off-site construction, and mass timber buildings are a big part of Ontario’s construction future and Quayside can push us to move faster in that direction.”

Steven Street, technical manager at Ontario WoodWORKS!, agrees: “We need to move faster to embrace pre-fabrication, wood-frame, engineered mass timber and hybrid structural systems. Ontario already has many five- and six-storey, light wood-frame buildings following building code changes in 2015, with several mass timber buildings under construction or planned, reconnecting us with post-and-beam buildings of the past century.”

The regulatory environment is evolving

European Building Codes appear to be more accepting of timber construction, than Canadian building codes. Nonetheless, the world’s tallest mass timber hybrid building is now in Vancouver at 18 storeys, permitted under a special city building regulation. Quebec also allows tall timber buildings under a provincial alternative solution.

Oregon State just amended its code to allow 18-storey timber and hybrid buildings, composed of different materials such as wood, steel and concrete. The code is based on comprehensive fire, structural and seismic requirements. Oregon recognized that it needs to act now since it would take until at least 2021 for the U.S. national code to embrace tall timber construction. Click here for a link to the Oregon tall timber code provisions.

It’s unlikely that the National Building Code of Canada will include provisions for 12-storey, tall wood buildings until at least 2020. Consultations on proposed changes begin this fall.

Marco VanderMaas, an architect with Toronto’s Krikor Architects and Planners, says: “Under Ontario’s performance-based code, tall timber buildings are possible, but only by following a much more arduous compliance path than for typical construction methods, but Ontario architects are up for designing and coordinating these projects.”

To facilitate approval of tall timber buildings as an alternative compliance solution, the Ontario government, working with the fire service, RESCON and others, published a reference document in November 2017.

Going back to May 2016, Ontario – working with RESCON, WoodWORKS!, the fire service and others – released guidelines for fire safety during construction of six-storey wood buildings – similar fire safety strategies are applicable to taller timber buildings.

The Ontario Building Code has not yet referenced an updated CSA Standard (A277-16, “Quality Control Manufacturing Standard”) for prefabricated panels covering light wood-frame, CLT and mass timber for buildings up to three storeys. A revision to the standard appropriate for larger buildings under Part 4 of the OBC is also planned.

Complex projects such as Quayside require a streamlined development approval system using state-of-the-art technology such as 3D BIM that allows designers and regulators to visualize internal building systems and how a building fits in with the community. A July 2018 RESCON report on ways to streamline development approvals, recommended expanding the use of e-permitting and BIM. You can find the report at this link.

Conceptual drawings for Google’s Quayside.

Questions about Quayside

Some questions remain about Quayside including: its business and funding model; the use, privacy and storage of extensive data on resident and visitor movements and interactions; and the ownership of intellectual property related to innovations developed by project participants. Planned fall consultations will hopefully answer these questions in a satisfactory way.

Already proposed for the waterfront near Quayside: Moriyama & Teshima + Acton Ostry, “The Arbour” will be a wood showpiece for George Brown College’s waterfront campus.


Big opportunities for Ontario firms

Many of the ideas embodied in Quayside align with current and emerging building and regulatory trends.

“Done properly, Quayside will create a precedent for the remaining portion of the largest re-development project in North America and will in no small way be a defining moment in the Greater Toronto Area’s future as a leading region – this is more than just an aspiration but rather a vital component for longer-term investment, innovation and jobs,” Lyall says.

To fully take advantage of these types of opportunities Ontario should further modernize its building regulatory framework. This would include: integrating BIM and e-permitting into the approval process, updating Ontario Building Code references related to pre-fabricated building panel standards, and moving quickly to include tall timber buildings provisions in the Ontario Building Code, as done recently in Oregon.


Michael de Lint is RESCON’s director of building regulatory reform and technical standards. Email him at

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