For the last century or more, the marriage of steel and the building sector has transformed skylines the world over as high-rises grew in both size and ambitiousness of design. The strength of both steel and concrete, as well as their advantages in fire safety, helped to quickly usurp the role of structural wood in the construction industry, save for small-scale residential and business projects.
As global warming starts to make an impact on policy and the collective consciousness, though, forward thinking architects and builders are looking for ways to combat the massive carbon emissions produced in the manufacturing of both steel and concrete. For some, the reversion to wood-based structures – coupled with 21st century advancements – is gaining appeal, fast.
Ecologically-wise, wood is by far a better building material in that it actually sequesters carbon from the air, rather than producing it, and has a low environmental impact if harvested from sustainably managed forests. Construction-wise, wood has typically had less load-bearing capabilities than its steel and concrete counterparts, and also presents the added risk of fire.
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By compressing a mixture of glue and wood fibers into laminated beams, however, lumber can surpass the strength needed for high-rise structures, and because the wood forms a protective layer of char around its core as it burns (unlike steel, which weakens as temperatures increase), it is surprisingly resilient in fires.
Michael Green, a Vancouver-based architect, is one of the designers embracing wood as the structural foundation of tomorrow’s major building projects. His current project ‘Tallwood’ is a 30-story wooden high-rise in Vancouver, which Green touts as being far cheaper to build than traditional counterparts. Other ‘woodscraper’ projects are in the works for cities around the globe, but the trend needs a functioning flag-ship to make an impression on the public and gain traction in the building community – and Tallwood may be just what the lumberjack ordered.