Building With Wood
With the Industrial Revolution, steel and concrete became the dominant construction materials. Wood use declined, relegated to single-family homes and low-rise structures. But that is beginning to change thanks to high-strength wood technologies, namely glued laminated timber (glulam) and cross-laminated timber (CLT), and the need to reduce emissions from construction.
Building with wood has two key climate benefits:
- As they grow, trees absorb and sequester carbon, which remains stored in timber construction materials. A unit of dry wood is 50 percent carbon, and that carbon is locked in while the wood is in use.
- The process of producing those materials generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions than wood’s alternatives, like cement or steel.
According to a 2014 study, building with wood could reduce annual global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 to 31 percent.
Conventional wisdom suggests that wood and high-rise buildings are incompatible, and that flammability is an issue. A renaissance in the processing and manufacturing of wood is challenging those limitations. New high-performance products are more fire resistant, as well as more cost-effective and stronger than ever. What’s more, they can be prefabricated and then put together like a giant piece of furniture, reducing construction costs.
timber-framed buildings [in ancient] China: Fu, Xinian. “Architecture Technology.” In A History of Chinese Science and Technology, Volume 3, edited by Yongxiang Lu, 1-194. Springer, 2015.
Hōryū-ji Temple…Ikaruga, Japan: UNESCO, World Heritage Centre. “Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area.” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/660.
[multi]-story apartment building[s]: Cathcart-Keays, Athlyn. “Wooden Skyscrapers Could Be the Future of Flat-Pack Cities Around the World.” The Guardian. October 3, 2014; Callaghan, Greg. “New Wood: How It Will Change Our Skyline.” Sydney Morning Herald. August 27, 2016; Risen, Clay. “The World’s Most Advanced Building Material Is…Wood.” Popular Science. March 2014.
Glulam…in British churches and schools: Slavid, Ruth. Wood Architecture. London: Laurence King, 2005.
cross-laminated timber…“new concrete”: Risen, “Wood.”
dry wood is 50 percent carbon: Oliver, Chadwick Dearing, Nedal T. Nassar, Bruce R. Lippke, and James B. McCarter. “Carbon, Fossil Fuel, and Biodiversity Mitigation with Wood and Forests.” Journal of Sustainable Forestry 33, no. 3 (2014): 248-275.
Cement…emissions: Amato, Ivan. “Green Cement: Concrete Solutions.” Nature 494, no. 7437 (2013): 300-301; Scrivener, Karen L., Vanderley M. John, and Ellis M. Gartner. Eco-Efficient Cements: Potential, Economically Viable Solutions for a Low-CO2, Cement-Based Materials Industry.” Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme, 2016.
steel beams…fossil fuel [use]: Oliver et al, “Wood and Forests.”
[potential to] reduce annual global emissions: Oliver et al, “Wood and Forests.”
high-performance products…fire resistant: Gerard, Robert, David Barber, and Armin Wolski. Fire Safety Challenges of Tall Wood Buildings. Quincy, MA: Fire Protection Research Foundation, 2013.
cost-effective and stronger than ever: Green, Michael C. and J. Eric Karsh. The Case for Tall Wood Buildings: How Mass Timber Offers a Safe, Economical, and Environmentally Friendly Alternative for Tall Building Structures. mgb Architecture + Design, 2012.
Ise Jingu…in Mie, Japan: Vallely, Paul. “History in the Making: An Unprecedented Visit to Ise Jingu, Japan’s Holiest Shrine, to See It Rebuilt Under the Beliefs of the Shinto Religion.” The Independent. June 22, 2014.
U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize: USDA. “U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition Winners Revealed.” Press release. U.S. Department of Agriculture, New York, September 17, 2015.