The key to engineering wood strong enough to support skyscrapers may lie in the interaction between molecules 10,000 times narrower than the width of a human hair.
A new study by researchers at the Universities of Warwick and Cambridge has solved a long-held mystery of how key polymers in plant cells bind to form strong, indigestible materials such as wood and straw. By recreating this ‘glue’ in a lab, engineers may be able to produce new wood-based materials that surpass current strength capabilities.
As part of a masterplan along the Chicago River, the River Beech Tower is a residential high-rise which, if built, would be taller than any existing timber building. The collaborative team behind River Beech consists of architects Perkins+Will, engineers Thornton Tomasetti and the University of Cambridge. Currently a conceptual academic and professional undertaking, the team state that it could potentially be realized by the time of the masterplan’s final phases.
Topping out two weeks ago, the structure of Brock Commons, currently the tallest timber structure in the world, is now complete. Measuring in at 18 stories and 174 feet (53 meters) tall, the building was completed nearly four months ahead of schedule, displaying one of the advantages of building tall buildings with wood.
The world's tallest timber tower has topped out this week, standing 53 meters high in the Vancouver skyline. The 18 story building, designed by Acton Ostry Architects, began construction in November 2015 and has since opened the floodgates for a new wave of mass timber towers. The building, which has been erected at record speed, will house 404 students as the Brock Commons Student Residence at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Offsite-production and the careful coordination of trades saw it rise at a rate of two floors per week, with the official completion set for mid-2017.
Wood has always been one of the essential materials used in construction, and with the ongoing trend of timber-framed tall buildings, it has become more important than ever to be conscious of the impacts on the environment from the types of wood we source.
Currently, there exist more than 50,000 tropical timber species in the world, yet only a small percentage of those are utilized in construction projects. This has led to the exploitation of the more well-known timber species, altering the diversity of the world’s tropical forests and putting those species in danger of disappearing completely. But what if we began building with the full range of species available to us?
The recent trend in timber-framed architecture may just be beginning.
SOM’s Timber Tower Research Project has passed a major milestone as the structural system has successfully completed strength testing that validate initial calculations. Launched in 2013, The Timber Tower Research project was established with the goal of developing a new structural system for skyscrapers that uses timber as its primary material. Using these techniques, the research team estimates that the embodied carbon footprint of buildings can be reduced by 60 to 75 percent when compared to a benchmark concrete building.
The Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) has announced the winners of the Timber in the City: Urban Habitats Competition, a student competition exploring wood as an innovative building material. Out of more than 850 architectural student entries, three winners have been selected, along with two honorable mentions, with prizes totaling $40,000.
The competition focused on a site in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and asked for designs for inhabitation, repose, recreation, and local small-scale commercial exchange, all while embracing the possibilities of wood and a variety of wood technologies.
Today, timber is being used in new, innovative ways to help address the economic and environmental challenges of the build environment,” said Cees de Jager, executive director of BSLC. “This competition brought to life the way the design community is recognizing the benefits of wood–from reduced economic and environmental impact to enhanced aesthetic value and structural performance–to design buildings and communities of the future.
The winners of the Timber in the City: Urban Habitats Competition are:
The municipality of Amsterdam has selected Team V Architectuur with Lingotto, Nicole Maarsen and ARUP to design HAUT, a 73 meter (240 foot) residential tower located along the Amstel River that will become the Netherlands' tallest timber framed building and, depending on construction schedules, is a contender for the title of tallest wooden tower in the world. With construction expected to begin in the second half of 2017, HAUT is another example of the growing timber architecture trend hitting tall building design.
Adding to the growing trend of timber-framed architecture, Tzannes has released plans for International House Sydney, the “first modern commercial engineered timber building of its size and type in Australia.” Located in the new urban district of Barangaroo, the building was conceived as a gateway to the area, linking pedestrian infrastructure systems and providing six floors of new commercial space.
White Arkitekter has been announced as the winners of an international design competition for a hotel and cultural center in the city of Skellefteå, Sweden. Selected from over 55 entries from ten countries, the winning proposal "Sida vid sida" (Side-by-side) calls for a 19-story timber structure containing a concert hall, museum, art gallery, city library and a four-star hotel. The new building will be the tallest wood-framed building in the Nordic region.
Nowadays the main building materials used in the construction industry are concrete, steel and timber. From the point of view of ecological sustainability, there are four important differences between these three materials: first, timber is the only material of the three that is renewable; second, timber needs only a small amount of energy to be extracted and recycled compared to steel and concrete (but the implementation of its potential is not as developed yet); third, timber does not produce waste by the end of its life since it can be reused many times in several products before decomposing or being used as fuel and; and fourth, timber traps huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere – a tree can contain a ton of CO2  – and the carbon absorbed remains embedded as long as the wood is in use.
Considering the fact that 36 percent of total carbon emissions in Europe during the last decade came from the building industry, as well as 39 percent of total carbon emissions in the United States, the materiality of construction should be a priority for governments’ regulations in the future as measurements against global warming. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the level of carbon emissions of the big economies across the globe are big issues that need to be solved with urgency in order to avoid larger, more frequent climate catastrophes in the future. The current regulation in several countries of the EU, which is incentivizing the use of renewable materials in buildings, is showing the direction the building industry in many other parts of the world should follow. And if these measures are adopted across the EU and beyond – if other countries start to follow this tendency as well – there will be significantly more wood in cities.
For the past several years, there’s been increasing talk of a renaissance in timber construction. Although we are predisposed to thinking of wood as a component limited to the classic balloon-frame house, new technologies have generated alternative materials which look like and are created from wood, but are stronger and more versatile than their more traditional cousins. While there are a number of different products on the market, including Glulam and Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL), the material that seems to hold the most promise for changing construction is Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).
The engineered material is created by stacking and gluing smaller pieces of structural lumber, each layer perpendicular to the one below it, to create wooden panels with a number of advantages to other commercial construction materials. According to Reinhard Sauter, owner of Sauter Timber, “CLT has excellent seismic values, it is extremely durable, competitive in price to steel and concrete, lighter and thinner than the latter, and with reduced construction times” - all of which made it an obvious material candidate for the company’s award-winning construction facility in Rockwood, Tennessee, completed in 2014. The structure, which was built with a Glulam frame and CLT wall and roof panels, offers an insight into how these materials can be effectively utilized in future commercial and industrial structures.
Emergent Technologies and Design Programme (EmTech) at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London has recently exhibited their project, The TWIST at the Timber Expo in Birmingham. The project is an experimentation in the properties of milled plywood, developed throughout 1:1 tests. Through these experiments, The TWIST seeks to gain full control of the material properties, developing articulated surfaces with the variable orientation of its elements. Read more about the project after the break.
Japanese office, The Shelter Corporation, has announced their 17th international architectural ideas competition, open to undergraduate and post-graduate students (as of September 11, 2015) across the world. The Shelter Corporation, which focuses on timber and wood-framed buildings, hosts this competition annually to generate discussion among students on the future of wood and timber construction. Believing in the importance of a sustainable built environment, the firm hopes that this competition can be the gateway for many young architects-to-be to enter the workplace with new ideas.
A new study shows that timber buildings can be up to 10-15% cheaper to construct than traditional designs in several different building types. The study, “Commercial Building Costing Case Studies – Traditional Design versus Timber Project,” was led by Andrew Dunn, chief executive of the Timber Development Association (TDA) in Australia. Part of a seminar series touring Australia, the report contains detailed designs of four building types in both timber and conventional construction, with a quantity surveyor comparing cost estimates between them. See how timber compared to conventional methods after the break.
Budapest-based art program Hello Wood has put out an open call for Project Village, their 2015 workshop and symposium to be held between July 11 and July 19. This year's event follows the success of Hello Wood's workshop in the summer of 2014, which saw participation from over 120 architects, artists and designers from 25 countries.