When it comes to construction, everything seems to be going up. Skyscrapers seem to be getting taller and taller. Burj Khalifa stands 2,717′ tall in Dubai, UAE. The largest building in the US, the One World Trade Center stands 1,776′ tall in New York City. All of the newest skyscrapers use the newest technology in concrete and steel to build these incredible building, but what if the newest frontier in skyscraper construction is actually an older material?
That’s right, wood. At this point, when it comes to construction, this seems like such a foreign idea. However, there has been quite a bit of discussion about how this could be the most sustainable, ecologically friendly option for skyscraper construction. A few years ago, Vancouver-based architect Michael Green gave a TED talk that argued for this point of view. He argued how Canadian building codes restrict construction to 5 stories, even though the British Columbian trees grow to 35 stories tall. Obviously, trees should be used to build taller buildings.
How Would This Work?
Simple Answer: Engineered wood.
We have discussed some types of engineered wood that are created for different areas of construction and the benefits of using this wood, but there have been great strides engineered wood production to create stronger longer beams that are crafted for skyscraper construction. This type of engineered wood is densely packed so that it is as strong as a steel beam.
Is It Really Ecologically Friendly?
Green building has been the focus of the construction industry, we know that architects and contractors are consistently looking to use construction materials in a way that is more ecological. However, Michael Green discusses how unfriendly steel and concrete are for the environment. The use of concrete is responsible for 5% of our carbon emissions and the use of steel is responsible for 3% of our carbon emissions. A tree is able to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and then retains it within its lumber without releasing it back into the environment.
Is This Sustainable?
Actually, Yes. Many lumber companies have been making strides in sustainable forestry, and lumber is a renewable resource. While it would take a large amount of wood to construct a skyscraper, unlike steel, it will grow back fairly quickly. When Michael Green is discussing this new engineered wood, it will only be made with young growth trees, so there will be about a 10-year turnaround. These short growth cycles will help reduce the effect of deforestation. Green calculates that using that using sustainable forestry and these short growth cycles, North America produces enough wood in order to build a 20-story building every 13 minutes.
What Are Some of the Other Benefits of Building With Wood?
Lumber is one of the cheapest resources and this makes it a great option for less expensive housing. The reason that buildings keep getting taller is due to the trend in urbanization. More and more people are moving to cities, and cities need to adapt to this trend. Architects need to find sustainable and less expensive ways of constructing buildings to house the growing number of people moving to cities. These new buildings will be able to provide living space for growing populations.
At Lampert Lumber, we are excited about this new idea of using wood as the construction material of the future. Since this talk, there have actually been a few structures already being built in Europe, using the techniques that Green describes. We are interested to see how the construction industry will change with the development on this new (old?) material.