New Cityscapes: Buildings of Wood

 "Engineered Wood" as the Most Sustainable, Superior Building Material

Source: Iceland FABRIC, Portland's Sideyard Apartments, Maine's Ecology School, London's Dalston Works Apartments, Zurich Airport Terminal

Purpose:  Fight Climate Change & Fires

Future cities built of high tech, fire-resistant, non-combustible, lightweight wood could help reduce the ravages of Climate Change and be the best defense against destructive fires.  That is the startling but growing conclusion among numbers of global architects and engineers.  There's a growing belief that wood, specifically cross laminated timber (CLT), is a superior and more sustainable building material than the concrete and steel that are currently used.  One of the biggest proponents of this new thinking is the prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Change Research in Germany.  There are increasing global examples of CLT buildings including Iceland's mix use FABRIC, Portland, Oregon's Sideyard apartments, London's residential Dalston Works, Maine's Ecology School and Zurich Airport's new Terminal.  

Shifting Global Population

By 2100, 85% of the world's population will live in cities, up from 50% today.  To accommodate the numbers, the amount of new housing needed for city dwellers would have to greatly increase.  That would require high production increases in concrete and steel, which would generate tremendous carbon emissions.  The Potsdam Institute suggests an alternative:  build mid-rise buildings made of "engineered" CLT wood.  That means timber cross-laminated, layered, glued together to form extremely strong composite wood. The researchers say CLT is far superior to, sustainable and significantly lighter than steel and concrete, which opens up new architectural and engineering opportunities.

Benefits & Challenges

There are many benefits of using high-tech wood as the basis of construction.  Wood is healthier for residents and provides better indoor air quality.  The engineered wood is fire resistant.  The lightweight nature of the wood allows for lots of windows and light. But there are big challenges in obtaining the wood. The researchers foresee the need for 345 million acres of forestland to obtain enough trees to meet the needs for constructing dwellings for city residents for 2100.  The challenge is obtaining the wood without overwhelming, undermining and destroying global forests.  The researchers say it can be done by sourcing wood from forestland already cleared for timber.  The researchers acknowledge that the approach will require a very delicate balance of safeguarding protected forest lands along with strong governance and careful planning.  Using high tech wood as a primary building material is a very provocative and innovative idea.  And certainly, the devil lies in the details of where the wood comes from and how it is obtained. 


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