Wood has been one of the main constructive resources used in mankind's buildings for many years. From houses to ships, we've shaped it to our will to create the designs of our imagination in a blend of engineering and sometimes art. Today, however, the skylines of great cities are made up of countless tons of glass, concrete and steel. We've used these materials to reach the sky, but at what cost? The greenhouse gas emissions from production of and construction with these materials during a time of worry about climate change may be too steep of a price to bear. What, then, are we supposed to use to continue our never ending quest to build as high as we can? The answer may be our old friend wood.
Some of the tallest trees in the world greatly surpass the heights of our wooden structures. One architect from Vancouver, Michael Green, has a vision of surpassing the limits we have today on building with wood. Despite numerous factors working against him, he believes that wood might be part of the answer in building a sustainable future. According to Inhabitat, there are building codes in many parts of the world that restrict building with timber. It prevents structures made of it exceeding four stories in height. These laws do not consider the modern advancements made in the procedures and materials workers of today can utilize.
The wood Green proposes using is multilayered and condensed, resulting in a material much stronger than your average 2 by 4. Fire wouldn't be any more of a problem than it is in concrete and steel buildings because of the flame resistant nature of the layered slabs of wood. The process by which these buildings would be constructed is a method of stacking around a central core producing a much more stable structure, especially in the event of a fire, where the supports and walls won't bend under the heat of infernos like steel beams and instead will slowly smolder with an insulating layer. Instead of producing carbon emissions, these buildings would absorb and store them like the trees in the forests. TED Talks reported that, while this may come as a surprise, buildings account for 47 percent of the world's carbon dioxide pollution, the largest contributor.
Incorporating other technologies and materials in these buildings can make them even safer and more sustainable, including using concrete in the foundations and steel beams in the frame. Radiant heating can be implemented to make them even more energy efficient. Between the wooden body and heated floor systems, each building could greatly reduce the amount of waste and pollutants during the construction process and throughout its life.
The tides are changing
Taller wooden structures have already started popping up around the world. Countries like the U.K., Sweden and Canada have already erected some wooden buildings of unprecedented height, but Green believes we can reach higher. Governments are beginning to see the potential impact this idea can have on efforts to abate climate change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently pledged up to 2 million dollars for a competition on sustainable wooden skyscrapers.
To become more eco-friendly, we may have to resort back to Mother Nature herself for help to make it happen. Cheaper costs and less pollution seem to be worth the work in jump starting what could be the next great building rush across the world.