CLT Provides Refuge for it’s Own Designer

While CLT use is growing, it is still relatively new to North America. So when Montreal architect Dominique Laroche designed and built a home for himself out of CLT, it gave him the rare opportunity to experience CLT as an architect, as a builder and as a homeowner.

We recently caught up with Laroche, principal of Laroche Architecte, who graciously agreed to share his perspectives.


E5: How did you originally learn about CLT?

DL: About 10 years ago, a friend told me about CLT, a new material that could revolutionize the way we think about wood buildings. I was intrigued by CLT’s environmental benefits and natural warmth. Plus, I knew that CLT would allow me to create buildings with complex geometry.

A few months later, I was intrigued by something else—a piece of land located in a beautiful wooded area less than an hour from Montreal. Nobody wanted to build on it because of its steep slope but it was a deal I could not pass up. So my partner and I purchased the land and embarked on an exciting adventure—to design and build our own dream house out of CLT. We called it Refuge à Saint-Calixte.

E5: As an architect, what appeals to you about CLT?

DL: As an architectural student at university, I remember constructing building models using thin sheets of Balsa wood; the wood allowed us to incorporate unique geometry into our designs. Using CLT reminds me of that same experience; it gives me freedom to do things that I cannot do that easily with other materials. I can create cantilevers using CLT; I can use walls as beams: I can vary angles. I can use CLT to make a building much more interesting.

E5: Why did CLT make sense for this home?

DL: It was a challenging building site. Plus, I wanted to explore and push the limits of the material by introducing multiple cantilevers and angles in all three—x, y and z—coordinates. After working closely with the structural engineer, I modeled all pieces precisely and sent the design information to the manufacturer.


TS: What did you learn about CLT during the building process?
DL: The speed at which we can erect these structures is quite amazing. CLT provides incredible time savings compared with a traditional structure, particularly for a project with such complex geometry as this.

TS: How did the construction work?
DL: Once I submitted the drawings to the manufacturer, they quickly produced the shop drawings and began panel production. This design required 78 individual CLT panels; they were cut to within 1/8-inch accuracy and shipped across the Atlantic. The panels arrived a few weeks later, neatly packed into one shipping container and individually numbered, like pieces of a giant 3D puzzle.

Crews took just 3-½ days to put the whole structure together. Erection could have gone even more quickly had it not been for a great oak tree which stood in the crane’s way; we were unwilling to cut. If we’d built this home using traditional 2 x 6 framing and roof trusses, construction would have taken weeks.


TS: Now that you’ve lived in a home built with CLT, what have you noticed?
DL: My notion of comfort has certainly changed. The wall section design ensures full breathability and the wood mass itself regulates humidity levels naturally. My passive solar design ensures natural heating and cooling throughout the year. The thick radiant concrete floors and the wood structure provide just the right amount of thermal mass to ensure comfort day and night.

The home is also visually comfortable. Views of the forest are framed by oversized windows in all directions, giving us spaces soaked in natural light. Inside, the wood texture and color makes us feel like we are living in nature.

With low energy bills and natural materials, the house makes a true statement of sustainability. I can easily picture this home standing solid for a few hundred years.


TS: Having now experienced CLT as an architect, builder and homeowner, how has your notion of the product changed? What is possible with CLT?
DL: This project inspired me. It was my first time designing with CLT but since then, I’ve used CLT in many other projects, both residential and commercial. Now that I have a little experience, I am working on providing additional designs that will make it possible for others to use CLT for their own home.

CLT opens new avenues for more interesting, durable buildings. I think the market is ready to explode with growth, so I am hoping that my experience will be helpful.

TS: Thank you!