NPR interviews leader in mass timber building design

Last fall, Here and Now’s Jeremy Hobson spoke with Michael Green, the Vancouver-based architect who has received international attention for both his support of wood construction and the wood buildings his firm has designed.

Michael Green has been a longstanding proponent of building with wood. His TED Talk “Why we should build wooden skyscrapers” has been viewed over a million times and he spoke passionately during New England Forestry Foundation’s Climate Week NYC event.

michael-green  (Michael Green speaking at a TED Talk in February 2013. Photo credit: TED.com)

His firm, Michael Green Architecture, recently finished construction on the first tall timber building in the U.S. — a seven-story office building in Minneapolis called T3. The firm also has plans to construction a 35-story tower in Paris, which would be the world’s tallest residential building made out of wood if completed.

Read some highlights below or listen to the whole interview at Here and Now.

On the safety of a skyscraper made out of wood
“It is always the first question and with any building you have to worry about fire, and of course with a wood building there are some special conditions that we work with. And so the analogy I often use is, little pieces of wood catch fire, big pieces of wood are very difficult to catch fire. So we all know that in our fireplace…And so the premise is we use huge-scale wood that resists fire naturally and burns very predictably in a very similar way to control a fire as it would be in a steel or a concrete building.”

On the limits of skyscraper construction with wood
“So, what’s interesting about this is the sky is almost the limit. About a year ago we were asked to do an exercise to see, could we have built the Empire State Building in wood? And the Empire State, being 102 stories, we thought well that should be a challenge. But we did some schematic engineering, and sure enough we could’ve. So, it really is, the capacity of wood to carry its weight over these huge heights is absolutely there. And I sort of again point out that if you take three of the trees that grow in our forest out here in western North America and stack them end to end on top of each other, three trees equal the height of the Empire State. So, of course wood can carry that weight and go that high.”

On the advantages of building with wood
“There’s so many reasons to that, and I think the first reason for me is that we should build out of natural materials. We should build out of materials, wood, that has the capacity to sequester carbon dioxide and help us address issues of climate change. We should build out of renewable materials rather than these high-carbon materials of steel and concrete that together represent 8 or 9 percent of our manmade greenhouse gas emissions just for the making of those materials. We need to move to these organic materials, and so wood, if harvested from very responsible forest practices, gives us incredible capacity to build more environmentally and more climate-sensitive buildings.”

“We are using a lot of what’s called mountain pine beetle wood, which is trees that have been killed off by a pine beetle that’s unfortunately ravaging the forests of Canada and now into the United States. And those trees stand and can be harvested and quite effectively turned into the products that build these big buildings.”