High Rise Buildings Made of Wood
By Elli Davis, April 20, 2012
What do you imagine when you hear about today’s architecture? Most people associate it with high-rise buildings made of steel, glass, concrete, and stones. Wood is not exactly the material that comes to mind when you think of all the modern, multi-storey buildings. That could, however, change in the near future — and Canada might well contribute to this shift.
Why Choose Wood?
The 21st century will be built in wood, Andrew Waugh, a well known British architect, has said. While this is a brave prediction, it has the possibilty to come true. It certainly will not be easy, however. Even today, many people do not consider wood a proper material for high-rise buildings because they cannot quite imagine how it would work. We tend to think of log-frame buildings when wood is mentioned as the building material. Wooden high-rise buildings are very, very far from log-frame houses, obviously. Nevertheless, the lack of information and experience still presents an obstacle for wood to be more recognized. The basic facts and positives of this building material should therefore be mentioned first.
It is important to point out that wood is indeed a solid building material. An insightful study that Vancouver architect Michael Green conducted for the Wood Enterprise Coalition shows that laminated wood beams and slabs can go up to 1.2 metres wide, 19.5 metres long, and 18 centimetres thick and their qualities are very similar to concrete and steel. Even 30-storey wood buildings can be built following strict safety regulations, Green claims. Wood buildings are furthermore much lighter compared to other types of buildings and have enviable insulation (thus lower heating costs).
The Costs of the Construction
If you expect these structures to be unbelievably expensive, you are mistaken. A building made from wood can be built for the same price as a concrete building, but in significantly less time. In his report, Green actually proved there would be no large differences in price. For instance, in Vancouver, a 12-storey wood building would cost approximately the same as a 12-storey concrete building, $283 per square foot. A 20-storey wood tower would cost slightly more ($300) than a 20-storey concrete tower ($294), however.
The fire safety level of wooden buildings might seem insufficient to many, but there is no reason to be worried. Proper high-rise wooden buildings — buildings made of solid wood and not those with wood frames only — are just as safe as steel and brick buildings. All environmentally conscious people should be big fans of wood buildings too. They are very environmentally friendly compared to steel and concrete buildings. Indeed, concrete production is responsible for 5 to 8 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, and steel production consumes about 4 per cent of the world’s energy. The carbon footprint will increase much less significantly with buildings made of wood.
Wooden High Rise - Melbourne
Wood Skyscrapers Around the World
The tallest wood building in the world is the nine-storey apartment building at 24 Murray Grove in London, England. At first sight, nobody would ever recognize it as a wood building, however. The wood, while forming a significant part of the building, is barely visible from the street. Interestingly, back in 2009, an agency formed to promote Norwegian-Russian cooperation in the North, the Norwegian-Barents Secretariat, promised to build “the tallest wood building in the world,” a 16-to-17-storey tall wood structure in a small town on the Russian-Norwegian border. It has yet to be built and the London building remains the tallest.
Australia’s very first high-rise building of timber is planned to be built in the near future too. The building is predicted to cost $100 million and “will be made from soft-wood panels imported from Europe and fitted together in weeks to make 50 apartments over ten storeys.” The building will be fire-resistant and carbon neutral and have its own gas-fired electrical generator powered by waste wood chips, rainwater, and a grey-water recycling system. While it will be slightly (10-15 per cent) more expensive than an average apartment, its inhabitants “will not pay water or electricity bills and will be quarantined from things like a carbon tax forever,” according to the building’s manager, David Waldren.
Wood and Canada
Even with unfavourable rules, British Columbia is planning something huge in the near future! As Jobs Minister Pat Bell recently announced, the tallest wood building in North America, and maybe even in the whole world, is going to be built in the province. The plan is to build a ten-storey Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, the price of which is expected to be as high as $75 million.
Obviously, a lot needs to be done for the engineered wood building industry to be successful. It certainly needs to “develop the technical expertise, create production capacity, and change outdated building codes.” If wood high-rise buildings will turn out to be a huge success, which I believe they will, they could well boost timber production in Brazil and in general use Brazilian trees more all around the world, according to Green. All I can say is that wood as a building material certainly deserves more recognition!