Modern architecture is increasingly embracing the idea of timber as one of the primary building materials, especially in high rise constructions.

Plyscrapers, or skyscrapers built using wood, are on the rise globally, as architects and engineers turn to timber for large scale buildings. Though timber has been used for centuries in buildings, the material was replaced by concrete and steel, especially in urban environments. However, the beneficial aspect of the material in construction is seeing timber make a comeback as a preferred building material.

Many countries around the world including Canada, Japan, Norway and England have taken the lead in reverting to timber architecture for several reasons including practicality, lightweight design, reduced pollution during construction, and lower impact on the environment among many more.

Earthquake-prone countries such as Japan see the appeal of timber framed high rises in their cities. Japanese company Sumitomo Forestry is set to build the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper with this concern in mind. The 70-storeyed building is 90 cent wood, with Sumitomo Forestry hoping to highlight the great benefits of timber high rises, and encourage developers to utilise wood in construction.

Benefits of building bigger with timber

Wooden structures are especially ideal for earthquake-prone areas with their flexibility allowing them to sway with the movement of the earth, rather than collapse as a concrete construction would. Environmental benefits come from the reduced energy required to transport the lighter weight timber materials to the building site; and reduced on-site traffic, pollution and noise during construction. The use of prefabricated elements enables quicker completion of the building project with less hassle.

Will timber construction increase deforestation?

The increasing acceptance of timber-based buildings has naturally raised concerns about potential deforestation caused by the higher demand for wood. Companies that are currently building timber towers say that the higher demand for timber will ensure proper maintenance of cedar forests, which will continue to be harvested and replanted in a sustainable manner.

Environmental advantages

The construction industry is one of the biggest polluters on earth with concrete and steel said to be responsible for 5 per cent and 8 per cent of global emissions respectively. Trees, on the other hand, actively lock away carbon dioxide, with just one cubic metre of wood absorbing a ton of CO2. Timber is also an excellent insulator, reducing the need for climate control in large buildings that are otherwise prone to high energy use.

Are timber buildings a fire hazard?

Timber skyscrapers are built using engineered wood. Regardless of the material used in the construction of large buildings, regulations require mandatory installation of sprinklers and fire suppression systems. Timber buildings are, therefore, at no greater risk of fire than concrete or steel buildings.

The Centre for Natural Material Innovation at Cambridge University was awarded $353,785 by the Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council to develop better fireproofing techniques for timber buildings.

Future of timber architecture

There is definitely a timber wave in the building construction industry with new innovations overcoming existing challenges. The future of timber architecture is certainly bright; however, architects and engineers must overcome current challenges by continuing to develop new wooden materials that are strong and structurally fit to support large scale construction.