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Tall Wood

Forget quaint mountain chalets, cabins in the forest and makeshift backyard sheds. Timber is increasingly being used to build bridges, cultural centers, stadiums and multistory buildings.

Love natural habitats, but don’t want to leave the city? You’re in luck. Long considered a material of the past, wood is branching out in our metropolises and could soon be used to build skycrapers.

Cross-laminated timber panels can be used to construct buildings 10 to 30 stories high.

From the outside, there’s nothing particularly unusual about the eight-story Stadhaus at 24 Murray Gove, in the London Borough of Hackney. But behind the pixelated white, gray and black façade hides a unique building. Designed by the architect Andrew Waugh, from its load-bearing walls and floor slabs to its stair and lift cores, the Stadthaus is made entirely from timber. When it opened in 2009, it was the highest wooden building in the world. That title was rapidly claimed by the Forté in Melbourne in 2012 and the Barents in Kirkenes in 2014. And architects hope to go much higher in the years to come! A 34-story tower in Stockholm? Why not a 42-story skyscraper in Chicago ?

According to architect Michael Green, author of the study The Case for Tall Wood Buildings, cross-laminated timber (CLT) could soon be used to construct buildings 10 to 30 stories high. As solid as reinforced concrete, CLT is made by gluing together large panels of laminated timber (spruce, Douglas fir, etc.) which are then cut to size.

But why replace the steel and concrete found in the world’s biggest cities since the 20th century? Urbanization has led to a huge rise in demand for housing. Mindful of the need to combat climate change, architects will need to rethink the way they build urban homes in the future, starting with the basic materials they use to build them. Concrete alone is responsible for more than 5% of man-made carbon emissions. Wood, if sourced from responsibly managed forests, is sustainable: renewable, in plentiful supply, and locally available, its production consumes less energy and produces less waste. But most of all, it is able to capture carbon, which it absorbs as it grows. It goes on storing carbon even after the tree has been felled. According to Waugh Thistleton, the wood used to build the Stadthaus stores 186 metric tons of carbon, whereas steel and concrete would have generated 137. That’s a difference of 323 metric tons of carbon.

As well as producing feasibility studies, several architects have launched pilot projects to test the limits of timber constructions. But the biggest task will lie in convincing customers that timber is just as safe as steel and concrete: CLT is highly resistant to fire, flood and earthquakes, as these centuries-old Japanese padogas prove.

 

Find out more:

- The World's Most Advanced Building Material Is... Wood

- An organization promote the use of wood as a construction material:

Main picture: HP Copyright © 2013 Yellowtrace.

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