Sidewalk Labs’ Google-Backed Smart City To Use Tall Timber Technologies

Mass timber is the building material of choice for the Google-backed smart city design Sidewalk Labs has proposed for Toronto’s eastern waterfront neighborhood development called Quayside.

A sketch of a multifamily complex
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Self-described as an urban innovation organization, Sidewalk Labs proposes to dramatically improve city living through technological solutions and an entirely timber neighborhood built from locally-sourced wood products—touting their benefits such as a reduced carbon footprint, flexible modular design and improved affordability.

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The company will look to use “tall timber technologies on an unprecedented scale, and exploring what it would mean to build Quayside primarily, or even entirely, out of tall timber,” said the team in their design proposal. Two types of engineered wood would be used, including cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue-laminated timber.

As Sidewalk Labs recently shared in an announcement it starts with a neighborhood built entirely of mass timber, a sustainable and healthy building material that is strong and fire-resistant.

Karim Khalifa
Sidewalk Labs’ Director of Buildings Innovation
If we can make it technically work, we’ll use it everywhere.

Courtesy of Google Sidewalk Labs


Beyond its environmental advantages, timber construction can contribute to:

  • Fast assembly
  • Low construction costs
  • Health and biophilic benefits

In an interview with Freakonomics Radio, Sidewalk Lab CEO, Dan Doctoroff further explained the benefits of a mass timber solution, along with better use of public open space.

Listen to the interview: 

“If you can begin to put people very close to open space and you can figure out ways to weatherize that, particularly in places like Toronto where the weather is not so nice a large percentage of the time, then maybe you can begin to re-conceive space in people’s apartments in new ways, which will also be enhanced by enabling people to store a lot of their stuff off-site, because with autonomous delivery it will be much easier and convenient, and you combine that with new approaches to construction, like modular construction, or perhaps cross-laminated timber, then you can begin to meaningfully lower the cost of housing,” explained Doctoroff.

Courtesy of Google Sidewalk Labs, rendering by Michael Green Architecture

Combining offices, shops and residences, the mixed-used development is illustrated with visuals showing high-rise wooden structures created with, perforated screens, repeating triangular frames, pedestrian oriented open spaces and heated pavement to ward off slippery winter weather. Structures would be built a from modular kit of wood and mass timber that could be reconfigured throughout the neighborhood. The 12-acre Quayside project at Parliament Slip is the first neighborhood in Sidewalk Lab’s major redevelopment and will be a testing ground for their plans for the larger 800-acre site.

Courtesy of Google Sidewalk Labs

The project has passed the second design review panel stage and is expected to begin construction by late 2018. The company’s website provides more than 25 planning documents and presentations, including the results of various town halls and public consultation.

Courtesy of Google Sidewalk Labs


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