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:

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.”


NPR discusses CLT in Northwest

National Public Radio’s (NPR) Morning Edition presented a segment on the growing popularity of cross-laminated timber in Oregon.

Last week, David Greene and Rachael McDonald hosted the broadcast, “New Technology Could Revive Pacific Northwest’s Ailing Timber Industry.” McDonald opened the segment with a tour of the new Albina Yard with Thomas Robinson, architect and founder of LEVER Architecture. Robinson focused on the importance of Albina Yard during the tour; it is the first building to use cross-laminated timber (CLT) made in Oregon and built in the United States.

Mayor Christine Lundberg then discussed the CLT parking garage in Springfield, Oregon, which is currently in early planning stages. “It’s an entirely different looking structure than a typical parking garage… it’s a signature piece,” Lundberg said.

Doug Heiken, Conservation and Restoration Coordinator with Oregon Wild, voiced his concerns over the source of the materials, emphasizing that clearcutting the Pacific Northwest’s old-growth forests in order to produce CLT would not be the best solution.

The segment concluded with a trip to Riddle, Oregon where CLT is being produced by D.R. Johnson Mill. Todd Black, the Marketing Director for D.R. Johnson, explained that CLT is being tested in a varied of ways to ensure safety.

You can hear the NPR segment or read the entire transcript at “New Technology Could Revive Pacific Northwest’s Ailing Timber Industry.” Read more about Albina Yard on our blog at “Reworks and LEVER gearing up for Albina Yard” and at “Mass timber building tour an informational start.

Comment sections: an opportunity for education

Comment sections are a hub for discussions and debate as articles, blog posts, and news reports about building with wood become increasingly common. But as the comment sections grow, so can the misconceptions and misinformation.

Back in December, The Guardian’s Melanie Sevcenko wrote “Urban jungle: wooden high-rises change city skylines as builders ditch concrete.” The article generated buzz with nearly 1,800 shares and 191 comments. In a companion article, Lloyd Alter at TreeHugger combs through the comment board, highlights which comments are most common, and responds to them. In “The Guardian covers tall wood construction; we cover the comment section,” Alter covers deforestation, carbon dioxide, glue, fire, health, historical use, maintenance, and jobs. Read the entire compilation of comments and responses by Alter here.

Global forests, sustainability, and the built environment

Trees are an essential part of a sustainable future, a future which includes more wood buildings in our world’s cities.

In “The Argument for Wood in the Built Environment,” Chris Carbone of Bensonwood argues in favor of sustainably harvest wood that can be turned in timber, eventually being used to build wood structures. He explains that people have been using wood as a building material for thousands of years and now understand wood’s structural abilities ever better. With some exceptions, he claims that we now have “…the knowledge and ability to construct most of our buildings nearly completely out of wood.”

Wood Commercial Building 5
(The Schachinger Logistics Center in Linz, Austria. Photo credit: Walter Ebenhofer)


The article goes on to say that “wood substitutes for other construction materials can save up to 31% of global CO2 emissions.” If this is the case, Carbone argues that we are morally obligated to use more wood while creating the world’s built environment.

Read the whole article at BUILDER Online and let us know your thoughts.

Opinion: Support tall wood buildings in Maine

Portland Press Herald just published an opinion column focused on why more tall wood buildings should be built in Maine. In “Maine Voices: It’s time to build ‘plyscrapers’ here,” author Lee Burnett explains that Maine is the most heavily forested state in the country, with forests in over 85% of the land. Burnett describes Maine’s working forests as “…the engines in this story. They inhale carbon from the air and store it benignly in trunks, branches and roots.”

The article goes on to clarify that large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere is not good, but carbon stored in trees and wood products are the best solution. Emphasizing the role of forests, Burnett states, “Forests can become climate-benefit multipliers when the harvest is shifted toward lumber and other long-lived products that displace energy-intensive building materials such as aluminum, concrete and steel.” The article concedes other countries are building tall wooden buildings with ease and Portland could be the next supporter.

Read the full article at the Portland Press Herald.