From Newark to Portland, timber is replacing concrete and steel for both midrise and highrise structures. What are the benefits of using wood as the primary building material for projects?
Timber is making a comeback as a building material of choice for both mid and high rise buildings in major metropolitan cities. Image Credit: Pixabay
While people since the nearly the dawn of time have used wood to build shelters and other structures, some forward-looking architects are bringing forth a timber renaissance. These visionaries, such as Michael Green, are choosing to replace steel and concrete as the primary building materials in their designs with wood. For example, Michael Green Architects’ design for the Newark, NJ Riverfront Square includes an eleven story anchor building constructed primarily of Canadian timber. What are the reasons for the new resurgence of wood in architectural designs?
Engineered Timber Products: The Cornerstone of the Timber Renaissance
Engineered timber products offer discrete advantages when compared to the use of concrete and steel in mid rise to high rise buildings. Image Credit: Pexels
The force driving the wood construction revolution is the use of engineered timber products. One of the most popular is cross laminated timber (CLT), which consists of oven dried timber used to build layers at 90 degree angles from adjacent planks that are then bonded together with glue and then sealed under high pressure. The result of this process is a timber product that is seismic resistance, rigid, and durable as well as an effective insulator against heat and sound. Some architects and engineers have referred to CLT as the “new concrete.”
Example of CLT used in a structural construction application. Image Credit: UBC Media Relations via Flickr
The Benefits of Using Timber as a Structural Material
New technological advances add strength to today’s timber products that may make CLT as common as clapboard once was in home and commercial buildings. Image Credit: Daniel Case via Wikimedia Commons
When one compares timber to concrete and steel, several distinct advantages of using wood as a primary construction material become apparent. For example, since manufacturers of engineered wood products can prefabricate the wooden planks and beans to spec, the time and labor required for construction of the building is significantly decreased. In addition, the timeline to complete the construction project is shorter when timber is used instead of concrete since the crews do not have to wait for concrete to harden. Of course, the natural wood grains offer a greater natural aesthetic value to the design of both interior and exterior spaces when compared to concrete.
Other advantages associated with engineered timber products include the following:
- Trees absorb more carbon than what they produce when harvested. In comparison, one ton of cement results in the release of one ton of carbon whereas trees absorb two tons of carbon. Since concrete and steel production account for 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, timber is an environmentally friendly alternative to these traditional building materials.
- Construction projects that use wood tend to be quieter and produce less dust than those that use concrete.
- Studies show people actually enjoy specific health benefits when they live and/or work in timber buildings, such as less stress, lower heart rates, decreased anxiety in classrooms, and improvements in hospital recovery.
- Timber brings its own unique scent, texture, and scale when used in both interior and exterior design.
- The demand for timber will foster the planting of new woodlands as well as existing forests, which will help reduce the earth’s carbon load.
- Timber offers better lighting and acoustics than concrete and steel.
To learn more about the advantages of timber, watch this TED Talk by Michael Green,
Have you made use of timber in your architectural designs? What was your experience?