Timber, architecture’s past and future

13-02-2018

Silva, the first wooden building in France. Image credit: Quickit

The building material of our ancestors is familiar, yet modernised. Recent innovations have resulted in terms such as ‘glue-laminated timber’ and ‘nail-laminated timber,’ but the common denominator is wood.

“It’s changing the paradigm of what the future of office buildings might look like,” Michael Green from Michael Green Architecture, an architectural firm based in British Columbia (B.C.), Canada, said to The Globe and Mail.

After all, “mass timber,” a consequence of new wood technologies, is now being more and more frequently used to construct buildings that are not only big, but unprecedented in height. The Dutch Mountains in Veldhoven, Eindhoven, the Netherlands, is set to be the largest wooden building in the world, and the 18-storey Mjøsa Tower in Brumunddal, a town in Norway, will be the tallest wooden structure in the world upon completion in 2019. These buildings, however, are not completely made up of wood. Elevators, for example, are commonly concrete. But these buildings, however, are not completely made up of wood. Elevators, for example, are commonly concrete.

Despite this, these developments are signs of a revolution in the architectural industry, where timber is becoming increasingly cost competitive, offering an alternative to steel and concrete. Moreover, according to The Globe and Mail, it is more sustainable and beautiful that the two energy-intensive materials.

Steel and concrete are, from the mining and quarrying of raw materials to forging the steel and cooking the cement, far more energy-intensive than wood. In fact, according to the United States (U.S.) Green Building Council, steel leaves a carbon footprint four times that of wood. Moreover, wood has the ability to absorb carbon, holding it until the wood either decomposes, or is burned.

“We’re just beginning to figure out the possibilities,” Lucas Epp, an engineer from StructureCraft, added.