The Future of Building Construction is Growing

tall wood buildings
T3, Minneapolis, MN, 2016. Courtesy Michael Green Architecture.

Tall buildings made of glass and steel are common throughout the world. But many people today are wondering if this is really the best way. Today, architects and designers are turning to wood as the structural foundation for buildings ranging from five to 18 floors. There are even proposed wooden structures up to 80 stories in the works.

Performance Benefits of Wood

Wood has been used for centuries to build homes and smaller structures. However, advancements in technology and the processing of timber have allowed wood to become competitive with concrete and steel as the materials of choice for larger construction products.

Strength

If you want to compare a single wood stud to a steel one, steel will come out on top. However, with modern building techniques, wood is pound-for-pound stronger than steel. By using products like cross-laminated timber(CLT) and glulam (glue-laminated timber), which are engineered wood products that layer real wood between waterproof industrial adhesives, architects can achieve their desired support system in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Fire Resistance

This may sound a little strange, but wood structures can actually be fire-resistant. There are many ways to make wood stand up to fire. One way that has proven popular for building exteriors is charring. This is an age-old process that involves actually burning the outside of a piece of wood. It effectively creates a barrier to moisture, mold, and pests. It also makes it less likely to burn in a structural fire situation. Another benefit is that it produces beautiful dark wood that requires little to no maintenance. If you prefer a lighter wood, the charred layer can be placed inside, then overlayed with a light, natural wood.

Seismic Stability

Because wood structures are lighter overall, they can stand up to a little shaking. The lighter weight, while maintaining strength, causes less load on the building’s foundation. In a seismic event, this makes them more resilient and less likely to collapse.

tall wood building
Murray Grove under construction, London, UK, 2009. Courtesy Waugh Thistleton Architects.

Environmental Benefits of Wood

While wood literally grows on trees, many believe that cutting them down for use in commercial building projects is bad for the environment. The truth is that, with sound reforesting policies and the natural instinct for trees to thrive, wood is a truly renewable resource.

In addition to being renewable, it takes fewer resources and less energy to turn raw timber into construction-grade building materials than it does to make concrete or steel. The process also produces less greenhouse gas emissions.

Economic Benefits of Wood

Wood requires less processing to make into construction materials, which translates into reduced costs as well. Construction costs can also be reduced because sections can be fabricated off-site in climate-controlled facilities and shipped to the construction site when needed. This means contractors can adhere to a tighter schedule and not get derailed by weather events.

Putting It All Together

There are many good reasons for you to turn to wood for any size construction project. In addition to performance and environmental factors, there’s also the integrity factor. You can rest easy knowing your project is better for the environment and is also made from wood grown right here in the United States, putting Americans to work and enriching local communities across the country.

Whether it’s a backyard deck or a 10-story office complex, wood such as Southern Yellow Pine can give you the performance you need in a renewable, earth-friendly resource.

(Featured image: Model detail, 475 West 18th, New York, NY, 2015. Courtesy SHoP Architects PC)