Wooden Buildings: Your Questions Answered

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sourceable.net – “Wooden buildings are the future – without doubt,” Andrew Waugh, founder of Waugh Thistleton Architects.

This may seem like a bold statement, but he certainly doesn’t stand alone in that belief.

It’s been a big year for wooden buildings and there is growing global support for their prioritization as a building material, particularly for multi-story projects.

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat has dubbed 2015 the year of the “Woodscraper” while the United States Department of Architecture (USDA) is currently reviewing entries for the recently launched US Tall Wood Building Competition, for which Waugh is a judge. A US$2 million prize is at stake while globally, the wooden project pipeline is full of activity.

Waugh’s firm is behind Dalston Lane, the record breaking cross laminated timber (CLT) residential block that will become the tallest in the UK at 10 storeys.

The 121-unit development is expected to use more timber than any other project in the world, making it, by volume, the largest CLT project globally.

Austrian real estate firm Kerbler Holding GmBH recently unveiled plans to build HoHo, an 84-metre wooden-hybrid mixed-use residential and commercial skyscraper in Vienna while the 14-storey wooden Treet building in Norway is also under construction.

Over in British Columbia, Canadian architect and wooden building advocate Michael Green has proposed an urban project for the Réinventer Paris competition called Baobab. It is set to feature the world’s tallest wood building at 35 storeys and would see Paris define the next era of city building according to Green’s firm.

In Melbourne, Forté, a 10-storey wooden residential building in the Docklands is still earning praise for its groundbreaking construction efforts years after it was completed in 2012.

Despite these success stories, the majority of buildings being constructed today are still using concrete and composite materials reflecting the resistance from the industry to use wood.

Now a lot has been said on wood, but there are also plenty of questions surrounding its use in tall buildings. Some common questions are:

How tall can we see wooden buildings rise?
Will they burn to the ground if a fire ignites?
Will termites eat them up?
What are the consequences if we don’t build with wood?

High Hopes

The big question every one wants to know is: how high can we go?

Green has suggested that wooden buildings could rise up to 30 storeys, but his recent proposal for the Paris building tops those ambitions at 35 stories.

Waugh, however, thinks we’re asking the wrong question and should just focus on building with wood – at all heights.

“It is a glamorous question and good for press and lovely pictures – but I doubt this is the way to build sustainable buildings that will solve the global housing crisis,” he said.

He also believes height will not necessarily give greater density.

“The competition over height – actual buildings and hypothetical ones – is interesting and pushes the boundaries of our understanding, but this conversation is in danger of being sensationalist,” he noted. “We need to make timber buildings the norm not the exception.”

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