Timber High Rises: The Next Generation of Green Buildings

Timber High Rises: The Next Generation of Green Buildings

The Timber Takeover

You know the feeling when you discover something truly revolutionary, something that makes you question why we ever did things the old way? That’s exactly how I felt when I learned about the rise of timber high-rises, or “plyscrapers” as they’re affectionately called. These eco-friendly wooden skyscrapers are poised to transform the future of sustainable construction, and I can’t wait to share their story with you.

It all started back in 2009 when the Burj Khalifa in Dubai became the world’s tallest building, stretching an impressive 154 floors into the sky. Engineers and architects have long been on a quest to build taller and taller, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. But a new material is about to shake up this race to the clouds – and it’s as natural as the trees that inspired it.

The Rise of Mass Timber

Enter “mass timber,” a revolutionary engineered wood product that’s taking the construction industry by storm. Also known as cross-laminated timber (CLT), mass timber is created by gluing or pinning together layers of cheap, sustainable softwood – think super-strong, super-thick plywood on steroids. And get this – it’s actually stronger than concrete, while being a fraction of the weight.

As the NBC article mentions, mass timber panels can resist earthquakes and even fire better than traditional lumber, charring instead of catching alight. They can be bolted together in a matter of days, requiring a fraction of the labor compared to concrete and steel high-rises. It’s like building with Lego, but for giant skyscrapers.

But the real kicker? Mass timber is about as eco-friendly as it gets. While concrete and steel production pump out tons of carbon dioxide, trees actually absorb CO2 as they grow. That means when a timber high-rise goes up, all that carbon is locked away for decades. And when the building is finally deconstructed, the wood can be recycled or used for energy – a true sustainable cycle.

The Race to the Treetops

So it’s no wonder that timber high-rises, or “plyscrapers,” are taking the construction world by storm. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture even launched a $3 million competition to demonstrate the viability of these wooden skyscrapers. The winning projects, like the 12-story “Framework” building in Portland, Oregon, are paving the way for mass timber to reach new heights.

As the Skyscraper Museum’s Tall Timber lecture series highlights, countries around the world are already embracing this timber takeover. Australia has a 10-story luxury wooden condo, Norway has a 14-story apartment building, and London is considering an 80-story mass timber office tower. But the epicenter of ambitious CLT projects seems to be in Canada, thanks to visionary architects like Michael Green.

Green has been a driving force behind the mass timber movement, building several large-scale projects like the 7-story T3 building in Minneapolis and the 8-story Wood Innovation and Design Centre in British Columbia. And he’s not stopping there – Green is currently working on a 35-story wooden mixed-use development in Paris called Baobab.

Overcoming the Obstacles

Of course, not everyone is on board with the race to timber high-rises. As the NBC article points out, Casey Malmquist of CLT manufacturer SmartLam believes we should start smaller before reaching for the sky. New York City’s regulations, for example, currently only permit wooden structures up to 6 stories.

But the momentum is building, and the benefits of mass timber are simply too compelling to ignore. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that even a 4-story mass timber building could offset emissions equivalent to taking 500 gas-powered cars off the road for a year. And as more testing is done and building codes are updated, timber high-rises are poised to become easier and more affordable to construct.

A Positive Spirit of Competition

One of the most exciting aspects of this timber takeover is the sense of friendly competition driving it forward. As Michael Green eloquently stated, “You say 30 stories, I say 42, and soon it’ll be 46.” This positive spirit of one-upmanship is spurring architects, engineers, and developers to push the boundaries of what’s possible with mass timber.

And the benefits extend far beyond just the buildings themselves. As the research highlights, the increased use of timber in construction has the potential to create new jobs, support sustainable forestry practices, and contribute to the fight against climate change. It’s a win-win-win scenario that’s hard to ignore.

The Future is Looking Up

So, what’s next for the world of timber high-rises? If you ask me, the sky’s the limit. With more testing, updated building codes, and the continued ingenuity of industry pioneers, I have a feeling we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible with mass timber.

And you know what that means for the future of sustainable construction? The team at Timber Building is thrilled to be a part of this revolution. As we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with wood, we’re excited to see how timber high-rises will transform our cities, our environment, and our very concept of what a “green building” can be. The future is looking up, and it’s never looked greener.


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