NPR’s Marketplace host Lizzie O’Leary sat down with Justin Davidson on Wednesday to discuss skyscrapers built from wood in “The skyline of the future is made of wood.” Davidson, the architecture critic for the New York Magazine, wrote about these wooden skyscrapers in his December 28th article, “Imagining a Wooden Skyline.” Below is an excerpt from the interview.
Justin Davidson: It’s really about taking relatively small units of wood when they’re sawn boards, but you’re then gluing them together into these massive units. So the general term for this is mass timber…The great advantage to it is that you can manipulate it in a factory using a computer controlled milling and do all the openings that you need, cut out the windows, cut channels and pre-designed and then pre-manufacture these units that can then be quickly assembled on site. This is a simplified way of putting it, but you’re essentially clipping it together like a kit.
O’Leary: You came here to our office on Third Avenue in New York City walking through a canyon of steel and glass buildings. Why build out of wood when you could do it that way?
Davidson: So one reason is environmental. So essentially for a ton of steel, you are producing something like a ton and a half of carbon. For a ton of wood, you are warehousing carbon, so the difference in carbon emissions is actually much bigger.
O’Leary: And the cutting down of trees?
Davidson: You’re not cutting old growth forest, you’re not deforesting the Amazon. These are managed forest, so you’re planting the trees, you’re letting them grow 10, 15 years and then you harvest them. And actually one theory is that essentially this is self-sustaining and self capitalizing because if there’s a demand for construction grade wood in the United States and in Europe and around the world, what you’re doing is pumping money into the forestry business.
O’Leary: What’s the biggest barrier to this becoming widespread?
Davidson: Habit. I mean, the construction industry is very routinized. So when you’re talking about changing the way you do it, there’s a startup cost that’s significant. But you also have to kind of vertically integrate the whole thing so that you are bringing the logs or the boards into a manufacturing center that is going to put in raw lumber in one end, maybe even just like tree trunks, and produce building components out the other.
Listen to this story in its entirety on Marketplace at “The skyline of the future is made of wood.”