Both Forbes and The Economist recently touted the opportunities in building with wood, advocating the new way to build is with mass timber products. The Economist article “Top of the trees” opens with a description of a pagoda in Japan, a building that has withstood natural elements such as storms and earthquakes for over 1,400 years. This remains the inspiration for many of today’s modern wood buildings. How can we build with wood in a way that will withstand rain, fire, and earthquakes? And will it be safe?
(Design for the 21-story high Haut building in Amsterdam. Photo credit: Team V Architectuur)
The answer is to build with mass timber, a term which applies to wood products that are engineered to be strong, durable, fire-resistant, and safe. These engineered wood products have been used for decades and research continues to be done on ways to improve them. The architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill along with Oregon State University recently showed how strong engineered wood can be. The researchers used cross-laminated timber (CLT) with a thin layer of reinforced concrete spread across the surface in a hybrid form known as concrete-jointed timber. Pressure was applied to the CLT panel to test its weight capacity. The floor began to crack once 8 times the designed load was applied. (Read more about this experiment in Testing Mass Timber)
In Forbes’ Tree Houses: Is Wood Really The Future Of Skyscrapers?, Laurie Winkless dives further into the future of mass timber. Winkless describes the potential shift of building with wood instead of steel and concrete and what that means for the environment. The production process for steel and concrete are energy-intensive and highly-polluting, putting wood above them in terms of environmentally friendly materials. But it is quickly pointed out that in order to be truly ecofriendly, this wood should be sourced from regulated, certified forests that are managed carefully with a larger number of new trees growing than harvested. (Read more about the connection between sustainable forestry and building with wood on New England Forestry Foundation’s blog Into the Woods)
(The newly built Brock Common at University of British Columbia. Photo credit: Unknown)
So what does this mean for the future of tall buildings? The number of mass timber buildings around the world is growing, as is the height. Brock Commons, the 18 story tall dormitory at University of British Columbia recently reached a milestone in construction. It currently holds the title of tallest wood building in the world, but will soon be beat out by the 21-story HAUT in Amsterdam. One thing is sure: mass timber buildings are here to stay.
What makes cross laminated timber (CLT) such a great material to work with? In the video “Stronger Than Steel,” architect Thomas Robinson explains that it’s about the quality. “The great thing about cross laminated timber is you can actually use what you might call in the industry lower value wood,” Robinson says.
“It’s kind of taking plywood to a new level, but it’s different. It’s very stiff and it’s very strong. Those pieces together create a very stable panel that can be prefabricated off site and then basically shipped to the site and craned into place.”
Robinson has been a longtime proponent for building with wood. A principal architect at LEVEL Architecture, Robinson has been involved in numerous mass timber buildings such as Framework and Albina Yard.
Watch the video below to hear more about cross laminated timber being used in the U.S. and what’s next for the industry.
The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. is opening their newest exhibit, Timber City, on Saturday, September 17th.
The exhibit focuses on the advantages of timber construction such as strength, fire resistance, sustainability, and aesthetics. Timber City will highlight the recent expansion of tall wood buildings in the U.S., such as the two winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Competition.
Timber City was made possible by Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, founding partners of the Boston-based architectural design firm ikd. Kim and Itakura curated and designed the exhibition which combines architectural models, prefabricated wood walls, and large examples of mass timber. There is also a focus on the newest timber technologies, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), and a look at how timber manufacturing can stimulate other manufacturing communities.
Two events related to tall timber construction will also be occurring this fall at the museum. The talk “Murray Grove: A Case Study In Tall Timber Construction” by building designer Andrew Waugh will take place on September 20th and “Spotlight on Design: SHoP, LEVER Architecture, Arup” will focus on the benefits of tall timber construction on October 13th.
Timber City is funded in part by the U.S. Forest Service, the Softwood Lumber Board, and Nixon Peabody. Timber City has been adapted from an exhibition organized by ikd for BSAspace at the Boston Society of Architects. Timber City will be on display until May 21, 2017.
To read the full description of Timber City and for more information, visit The National Building Museum’s exhibit site.
On the Build It With Wood blog, we talk about mass timber a lot. We love the potential of the wood products, the climate benefits, the aesthetics, and the durability (just to name a few). And sometimes we get wrapped up in our love for mass timber that we forget that other people haven’t even heard of mass timber or have only recently been introduced.
So when Architects Newspaper published the article “Watch SOM test its latest in timber tower technology,” we thought it was great to share. While we’re looking at new designs for structures or adding another pin to our map of wood buildings, it’s easy to forget about the wood that is used in construction. Products like cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue laminated timber (glulam) are not new to the market, but researchers are still constantly testing and researching wood products.
As Architects Newspaper highlighted, Oregon State University and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill have been testing wood panels by applying huge amounts of pressure on them. In this latest example, 48 sensors recorded the stress level over the two hour testing period. In the time-lapse video, 82,000 pounds of pressure was applied to a 36’x8′ span of CLT/concrete composite. That’s 8 times the required design load. With every test, researchers learn more about the best uses for wood so that mass timber buildings will be as safe as possible.
Watch the video below and learn more about research on mass timber.