A team of self-professed high-tech Kootenay hippies is helping build a tower of timber within Vancouver’s glass and concrete skyline. Story by Will Johnson.

Chances are you’ve never heard of a wooden skyscraper, let alone seen one. But soon Vancouver’s skyline will boast just such a thing, thanks to Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Once his Terrace House project in the city’s Coal Harbour district is completed in 2020, it will be the tallest hybrid structure in the world: a luxury residence boasting nine storeys of engineered timber set atop 12 storeys of concrete. And it will bring a special Kootenay touch to the city of glass.

Above and top: These renderings by celebrated Japanese architect Shigeru Ban show both inner and outer details of the Terrace House in Vancouver, BC. The suites in the top nine storeys of the 21-storey skyscraper will look like timber-frame dwellings. All photos compliments of Spearhead.

“It’s going to be like a beacon of light in the city,” says Ted Hall, founder of Spearhead, the Nelson, British Columbia-based company that’s been contracted to bring Ban’s ideas to life. “It’s a tall, skinny triangle of heavy timber in the midst of a concrete jungle, and it’s going to be visually stunning. We’re using the most primitive material known to man, but in sophisticated ways.”

A rendering of the giant shade structure and public art piece by Spearhead that will also find its home in Vancouver.

Founded in the 1990s, Spearhead has made a name for itself tackling increasingly complex structures involving the marriage of woodworking skills and advanced technology. Today it employs 55 people, from carpenters to technical designers, who use sophisticated modelling
software to map out manufacturing processes in 3D and then apply them to projects in such places as Dubai, the US, and the Caribbean. Hall says he’s pleased the Terrace House job is a bit closer to home. “The fact that we’re able to do this calibre of work in Vancouver, the city I grew up in, has personal significance,” he says. “We feel like a pretty proud group of Kootenay hippies competing with some of the best in the world.”

The skyscraper is actually one of two projects Spearhead is currently working on in Vancouver. The second is a giant shade structure and public art piece that resembles a molar you might find in a giant’s mouth, and it required all the company’s fabrication expertise. “We refer to a project of this complexity as a free-form structure with an intriguingly organic form,” says Hall. “It’s a bit of a strange blob, and I think it will make a big impression on the people who see it.”