China introduces Tall Wood Building Code

By Haiyan Zhang

Technical Director, Canada Wood Shanghai

On February 21, 2017, China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) issued “Technical standard for multi-storey and high-rise timber buildings (GB/T51226 – 2017)”. In line with a global push towards taller wood structures, the code aims to broaden the scope of application of timber structures beyond the current three-storey limit.

The new code allows wood structures up to five storeys. Moreover, on a case-to-case basis, structures up to 56 metres or 18 storeys may be approved for construction in the lowest seismically-rated zone in China (6 degree seismic) subject to local authority approval and expert endorsement. The code officially takes effect on October 1, 2017.

Barriers remain for wood

While the code marks another step forward in the Chinese market, it is unlikely to result in a tall wood construction boom. Several barriers remain:

  • The new five-storey provision applies to residential and office buildings, situated in 2nd and 3rd tier cities. In such places, wood remains an unfamiliar method.
  • Floor area in five-storey construction is restricted to that previously permitted under the three-storey limitation. Therefore individual floors will be proportionately smaller in footprint.

A lot of work remains to be done with fire code authorities to enable larger buildings in height and area. Local fire bureaus may need education to understand the new TWB code.

University of British Columbia’s Brock Commons student residence is the first mass wood, steel and concrete hybrid project taller than 14 storeys in the world at 18 storeys.

Canada recognised as an expert in tall wood 

Thanks to the 18-storey Brock Commons residence at UBC Canada is widely viewed as a leader in tall wood. Accordingly Canada Wood is a member of the TWB code committee.

CW China provided Canadian research findings and best-practices to support the code development process.  Canadian experts also collaborated with the Tianjin Fire Research Institute on joint fire safety research.