Building Tall with Wood

Last week I talked about old and traditional wood building. This week let’s look at some modern uses. How about skyscrapers?

I want to direct you to several good articles on why we should be building more and higher with wood. The first is by the Economist. Lots of good stats there, under the note that “no other building material has environmental credentials as exciting and overlooked as wood.” That’s a message we have to like, right?

The article compares the carbon cost of steel or concrete production (“Cement-making alone produces 6% of the world’s carbon emissions. Steel, half of which goes into buildings, accounts for another 8%) to that of wood, which is something I’ve seen before. But did you know that “a softwood window frame provides nearly 400 times as much insulation as a plain steel one of the same thickness and over a thousand times as much as an aluminium equivalent.”

BBC provided me with term for these buildings: “Plyscrapers.” And they brilliantly addressed the fear of such a building in their opening, noting how the world scoffed about new building techniques over a 100 years ago:

When the Ingalls Building in Cincinnati, Ohio was unveiled in 1903, no one believed it would still be standing over a century later. In fact, it wasn’t expected to last the night.

The towering, 16-storey behemoth was the first concrete skyscraper in world history. Previously they had been made with burly metal alloys such as steel – concrete was extremely experimental. The media ran wild with speculation.

Some said it would crack and crumble under its own weight. Others even suggested it might be blown over. Legend has it that when the supports were removed, a local reporter stayed awake through the night, hoping to scoop the story of its collapse the very next morning.

Compare this still theoretical building — an 800-foot residential skyscraper in Chicago with what is currently the world’s tallest (and nearly the oldest) wood building:

The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple in China is one of the oldest wooden structures. It was built by Emperor Daozong of the Liao Dynasty at the site of his grandmother’s home – without a single nail, screw or bolt.

And yet, thanks to skilful craftsmanship and sturdy design, the pagoda is still standing 900 years later. At 67m (219ft) high, it remains the tallest timber building in the world – at least, until the HoHo building is completed. It has survived at least seven serious earthquakes

Australia’s on board with a really cool project. Interestingly they noted that this project has a concrete base, not for wind support as outlined in other projects, but because of termite concerns!

Just google “plyscrapers” and see how wood is continuing to reach for the sky. Pretty darn impressive stuff out there!

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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