What is hybrid-timber construction?

A vast number of buildings today are erected using hybrid construction. Hybrid-timber construction systems combine wood with different materials (for example steel, concrete and glass) and techniques to deliver a wide range of structural solutions. While it is possible to construct a building entirely of wood, most wood buildings rely on some use of other materials. Nails, screws, bolts and plates for connections are a standard complement to wood construction. Hybrid-timber construction goes further, making other materials—such as steel and concrete—an integral part of a building’s structural assemblies. This mixing of materials in building systems means design teams can exploit the strength of each—optimizing structural and building performance. Projects might use one specific hybrid assembly while others might take advantage of multiple configurations.

Surrey Central City | Photo credit: Nic Lehoux

Central City Surrey hybrid timber construction

Architecturally expressive low-carbon building solutions

Advancements in hybrid-timber technologies are giving rise to taller, larger, and long-spanning wood structures from office high-rises and residential towers to industrial warehouses and sports stadiums.

These expressive structures are often an architectural focal point, serving both a practical and aesthetic function. As a lighter assembly, hybrid-timber systems save on foundation costs and can improve seismic performance during an earthquake. And by increasing the amount of wood, these systems lessen a building’s overall environmental impact and offer a lower carbon solution.

Examples of hybrid-timber construction include post-tensioned timber systems, wood-concrete composite systems and mass-timber combined with light-frame wood construction.

Askew’s Uptown Supermarket | Photo credit: Derek Lepper Photography

Exterior early evening view of Askews Supermarket entrance showing extended covered hybrid walkway of nail-laminated timber (NLT) and steel leading to two storey low rise glass fronted store

Mass timber combined with light-frame construction

Mass timber combined with light-frame construction is a nearly all-wood hybrid building system. It offers unique opportunities not possible with light-frame construction alone, such as a cantilevered design element.

Prefabricated mass timber light-frame systems offer several advantages: fewer crew members needed on site, a smaller carbon footprint, a high building-volume-to-surface-area ratio for generous interiors, lighter weight and lower foundation costs, natural insulation that offers thermal advantages, and the ability to flex during an earthquake. When mass timber is left exposed, these projects have the bonus of aesthetic warmth and biophilic benefits.

Legacy on Park Avenue | Photo courtesy of Keystone Architecture

Legacy building with wood undulating features
Panel what you preach

Okanagan College’s Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence walks the talk with its sustainable design

This learning hub dedicated to teaching the latest in sustainable construction and design leads by example with its less carbon-intensive timber-concrete composite panels forming the walls and roof of this 1,100 m2 gymnasium.

Photo courtesy of CEI Architecture


Timber-concrete composite systems

Timber-concrete composite technology, chiefly used for reinforced flooring but can also form wall panels, is essentially a prefabricated concrete slab connected to a timber panel or beam. The materials work together to optimize structural performance. The concrete resists compression while the wood, with its capacity to flex, offers tensile strength. Either solid mass timber panels (for example, nail-laminated timber or cross-laminated timber) or engineered wood beams spaced at centres (for example, glue-laminated timber, laminated veneer lumber) can be used. The concrete slab can be poured on-site or precast in a shop environment. On-site pours reduce the weight of the timber panels and, without additional topping, creates a structural diaphragm—a flat horizontal platform that strengthens the structure and transfers lateral loads to the vertical columns of the building.

Okanagan College Jim Pattison Centre Of Excellence | 
Photo courtesy of CEI Architecture

Interior sunny daytime view of low rise Okanagan College gymnasium showing hybrid construction with light frame and mass timber construction, including cross-laminated timber (CLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and prefabricated elements

Improved structural and acoustic performance is a primary benefit of timber composite systems. Electrical and mechanical systems can be integrated into the structural panels as part of the prefabrication process. Another advantage of timber-concrete composite technology is that it requires less concrete than conventional construction methods, shifting load to the timber. Reducing the use of carbon-intensive concrete and increasing the use of low-carbon timber means a smaller environmental footprint.

Brock Commons Tallwood House | Photo credit: KK Law


Outdoor close up view of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and concrete steel building connection
Concrete thinking

FPInnovation’s Design guide for timber-concrete composite floors in Canada

Topping timber floors with concrete offers benefits from enhanced load-carrying capacity and stiffness to better acoustic performance. Learn more in this 100-page guide by FPInnovations, complete with illustrations, formulas and project examples.

Glue-laminated timber (Glulam) and Cross-laminated timber (CLT) are featured in this exterior daytime view of the Virtuoso, a six-storey mid-rise residential building

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Brock Commons Tallwood House
Brock Commons Tallwood House

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Glue-laminated timber (Glulam), parallel strand lumber (PSL), and solid-sawn heavy timbers are featured in this exterior view of sweeping glass and wood Surrey Central City Shopping Centre
Central City

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Exterior nightime view of Kingsway Pedestrian Bridge showing double-curved glue-laminated timber (glulam) arch with walkway suspended by steel cables below
Kingsway Pedestrian Bridge

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