If the 20th century was the century of the Skyscraper, then the 21st century is shaping up as the century of the PLYSCRAPER —– a tower block made entirely from wood.
Despite the historical reputation of wood for great city fires —— London in 1666, the Great Chicago fire of 1871 and San Francisco in 1960 ——- WOOD is making a comeback as “construction material” and how. Vancouver-based architects MGA recently completed a 97ft wooden building. Next year, in Vienna, construction will begin on a 275ft PLYSCRAPER, and Stockholm may build a 34-storey wooden apartment by 2023. Others in the pipeline are from Canada to Australia to Europe. Vancouver-based architect Michael Green, says the momentum is gaining as new engineered-woods allow for greater strength and heights in buildings. Moreover, faster construction times and a softer environmental impact, could the building material of the past be the future of construction ? But, he said, news of taller wooden structures is sprouting up all the time. “There seems to be a new announcement every 2 or 3 weeks. We’ve got one in Vancouver for 18 storeys, and in Vienna there’s one for more than 20 storeys. We’ve done research in high earthquake zones, that show 30 storeys is FEASIBLE. We certainly think we can go up to 40 and higher.”
Michael Green said that new developments in engineered-woods —— small wood components that are glued together to make large panels for a building —— are a “game-changer” for construction. Mass timber panels, in particular, cross-laminated-timber (CLT) are becoming established as a quicker, greener and, eventually, cheaper alternative to concrete and steel. One great bonus of the material is the “speed of construction” —— panels can be made to measure, in the factory, with openings, windows and doors. While the main advantage of working in wood are manifold —— it is flexible, robust and easily worked, Green says that wood may be the only material to address the growing problems of urbanization. Wood has not been looked as “urban material”, so we looked at how it could be the contributor to urban environments. There are a whole host of advantages. Steel and Concrete have huge “carbon footprints”. Concrete accounts for about 6-8% of man’s greenhouse gas emissions, whereas Wood “sequesters” carbon dioxide and gives us a vehicle to create “carbon-neutral buildings.
In terms of “carbon footprints”, a 20-storey PLYSCRAPER put against its counterpart in Concrete and Steel, is equivalent to taking 900 cars off the road for a year. But the established nature of concrete and steel means that CLT will not replace urban building materials overnight. Concerns over fire and inherent problems with its acoustic qualities (apartments need additional acoustic measures to keep noise from travelling) have meant that the construction establishment has been slow to come to the party. In Vienna, for example, the Austrian Fire Services are working with architects to test their plans. —– “The main factor is that everyone wants to build higher and higher buildings An 84-metre-high building, in Europe, is not usual and there are a lot of necessities that have to be realized,” fire service spokesman Christian Wegner told The Guardian newspaper, “a few of us were upset because it was crazy to present an idea like this that has not been discussed with everyone yet. They have to carry special tests on the correct combination of concrete and wood. We also want to develop a more “fail-safe” sprinkler system. I expect they will pass the tests, but if they develop the buildings, as they say they will, it will be a serious project.”
Super firm SOM —– the architects behind the One World Trade Centre and the Burj Khalifa —- are considering using wood for high-rise constructions. Wooden Skyscrapers, or should we say PLYSCRAPERS are “smoking hot.” —COULD YOU, WOOD YOU ????????