The Material Revolutionizing the Construction Industry? Wood

Posted: June 2, 2020 by oldbrew in climate, Emissions, innovation, trees

Austria’s Pyramidenkogel: ‘at a height of 100 metres it is the tallest wooden observation tower in the world’ says Wikipedia [image credit: Rollroboter @ Wikipedia]

Another case of jumping on the climate bandwagon to promote a product? The term used is ‘mass timber’, or engineered wood. Sweden has already built the first wooden wind turbine tower, made of modular laminated wood.
– – –
Architects and engineers are working on ways to swap steel and glass for strong, sustainable wood-based materials, says Discover Magazine.

When the empire state building was completed in 1931, the 102-story skyscraper ranked as the tallest in the world, a beacon of American progress as well as a lightning rod for Midtown Manhattan.

And the material that made it possible was steel — or so people believed until 2015, when Canadian architect Michael Green showed that an identical structure could be fabricated out of timber.

Green was not proposing replacing the 20th-century icon. His plans are far more radical. Green wants the global construction industry to replace steel and concrete with high-tech plywood.

“We’re not even close to meeting global needs when it comes to housing people in a safe and affordable way,” he says. Plus, the construction of buildings is responsible for around 10 percent of all global climate emissions.

Green claims that these interrelated problems can both be addressed by building with timber from sustainably grown forests. To show the high-reaching potential of wood in the real world, in 2016 he erected a seven-story high-rise in Minneapolis, the tallest wooden building in the U.S. at the time.

He used a plywood popularized in the 1990s. Losing market share to concrete, the lumber industry had sought to produce a material that would be both sturdy and cheap.

By gluing stacks of wood panels together into massive blocks they called “mass timber,” the engineers effectively replicated traditional masonry.

And they added several features that neither stone nor concrete could claim: The new material could be cut with high precision, making it suitable for affordable, high-efficiency prefabrication. Plus, it was relatively light, making it practical to transport from a factory to the construction site.

But what most impressed Green was the strength: When the wood panels are cross-laminated, or glued with their grains running in alternating directions, the material is, pound for pound, stronger than steel.

Wooden buildings actually have the potential to roll back climate change, says Green, because trees soak up carbon and incorporate it into their wood as they grow. “You’re holding on to that carbon until [the wood] burns or rots.” And unlike ordinary lumber, mass timber is highly resistant to fire.

These arguments are catching on with other builders, who are making their own wooden high-rises higher and higher. The current record is an 18-story tower in Norway. An 80-story skyscraper is planned for London.

Continued here.

  1. Bloke down the pub says:

    Well it’s a far more sensible use of timber than chopping it up and burning at Drax.

  2. JB says:

    Of all the current materials that are so easy to recycle! And golly, how long is the laminated wood going to last against the environment without hi-tech crude oil derivatives (adhesives & sealers)?

    My wooden deck has lasted barely 20 years, requiring extensive replacement because of rot. Painted with a solid coat of latex, too. Now the big push is to use non-flammable composites.

    Watch the fire insurance rates skyrocket accordingly.

  3. J Martin says:

    I will certainly want to know what the 80 story high wooden skyscraper is called or where it is, so tha i can be sure of never going inside it.

  4. Gamecock says:

    Is Tego-Film available?

  5. Gamecock says:

    ‘Wooden buildings actually have the potential to roll back climate change’

    Too stupid to comment on.

  6. saighdear says:

    ‘gluing stacks of wood panels together’ …. now where haveI heard THAT before? and what is he glue made OF or FROM? Be very careful when burning such processed timber off-cuts in a domestic wood stove: otherwise the waste wood is regulated waste, isn’t it?

  7. MrGrimNasty says:

    Blame it on the cladding, nothing to do with (what looks like) timber frame SIPs construction!

  8. stpaulchuck says:

    so-called ‘engineered lumber’ has been a treat in the house building market. Wooden I-beams for floor joists and rafters are 100% true and have load capacities exceeding solid lumber of similar dimensions.

  9. bo says:

    I have only one word to add to all the above: termites.

  10. ivan says:

    Just don’t build them in places where there are termites. The other thing is where does the waterproof glue come from?

  11. oldbrew says:

    Wood frames are nothing new, but the ‘plywood sandwich’ idea is a recent development.

    Light wood framed construction is one of the most popular types of building methods for homes in the United States and parts of Europe.

    The method is to build the house with a wood frame then put brick, stone, concrete or whatever (‘siding’) round the outside.
    – – –
    Mass Timber in North America [pdf]

    Click to access ReThinkMag-DES610A-MassTimberinNorthAmerica-161031.pdf

  12. oldbrew says:

    Flat-pack furniture is likely to be MDF rather than solid wood.

    MDF stands for medium-density fibreboard – a type of engineered wood that is extensively used in the manufacturing of flat-pack furniture and cabinet doors. Although it is essentially a material made from recycled wood fibers, wax, and resin, composite wood is denser than plywood and almost as sturdy as most types of natural wood.

  13. I would say fire is a bigger issue- a wooden building would disappear quicker than the Grenfell Tower. What about the fire in the New York World trade centre. The Japanese used to build lots of wooden buildings which could move and survive an earthquake but it was fire that caused the damage and burnt whole cities. Did not a fire burn Rome under Nero? was there not a fire that burnt down most of London. I personally would not enter a wooden office building especially if it had restaurants on any floor. I have been on the 22nd floor of a Hotel in Tokyo during an earthquake. I was glad it was a solid concrete building which could sway (ie not fixed foundations) and had damping in the basement to reduce the sway.

  14. Gamecock says:

    Don’t know if it will be an issue in architecture, but wood laminates do have the property of being HEAVY.

  15. Stuart Brown says:

    But, from the post:
    “the material is, pound for pound, stronger than steel”

    On the other hand it also says:
    “Architects and engineers are working on ways to swap steel and GLASS for strong, sustainable wood-based materials”

    So – good luck with that then. Still, LED lighting is very efficient 🙂

  16. gbaikie says:

    Land is bad place to live.
    Let’s live on the ocean.
    Could make permanent floating structures and use concrete,
    but could use waste/recycled glass- if same costs or cheaper
    than concrete.

    I agree, the problem with wood is it burns.

  17. tom0mason says:

    Maybe these ‘engineered wood’ types should study the link in this Wikipedia page

    Oddly they do not mention 1700 or 1701 —

    The Lesser Great Fire of 1700 in Edinburgh.

    3rd of February, 1700, just over three years before the formation of Edinburgh’s first ever official Fire Brigade, a severe fire destroyed many buildings around Parliament Close. At that time, the population of Edinburgh was estimated to have been between 50,000 and 60,000 souls – that’s live human beings, not imagined ‘afterlife-lings’. The Lesser Great Fire of 1700 was truly dreadful and, according to ‘Maitland’s History of Edinburgh’, it “broke out at the north eastern corner of the Meal Market, about ten of the clock on Saturday night, on the third of February, all that magnificent pile of buildings (exclusive of the Treasury Room) on the eastern and southern sides of the Parliament Close, with the Exchange, were destroyed.”


    1701 —
    Grand_Bazaar, Istanbul in Turkey “The fire of 1701 was particularly fierce, forcing Grand Vizier Nevşehirli Damad Ibrahim Pasha to rebuild several parts of the complex in 1730–1731. In 1738 the Kızlar Ağası Beşir Ağa endowed the Fountain (still existing) near Mercan Kapı.” (from,_Istanbul )

    Needless to say many of the fires, if not caused by all the timber buildings with open fires in them, were greatly exacerbated by all the timber buildings lining the narrow streets.

    Maybe some useful lessons can be learned from history. Maybe these ‘engineered wood’ experts will come to understand that no amount of “flame-retardant treatments and fire-resistant claddings” will resist a major conflagration as well as building with stone, brick, steel and concrete.

    Or maybe it is a lesson they wish us all to learn again.

  18. brian says:

    Fire and moisture will destroy these CLT buildings and then they will have to be rebuilt – now that’s carbon intensive! The wood industry also doesn’t mention that you will never see the exposed wood like you see in magazines – it will be covered up with gyp board to protect it from fire.

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