Can Future Cities be Timber Cities? Google’s Sidewalk Labs Asks the Experts

Steel and concrete facades have dominated contemporary cityscapes for generations, but as pressures from climate change pose new challenges for design and construction industries, some firms are turning to mass timber as the construction material of the future. But could it be used for structures as complex as skyscrapers? 

Courtesy of MGA. ImageMGA's proposal for a mass timber building in Newark

In Sidewalk Labs' inaugural City of the Future biweekly podcast, which focuses on new ideas and innovations poised to transform city life, hosts Eric Jaffe and Vanessa Quirk investigate the potential of—and pushback against—an emerging mass timber industry.

At the turn of the century in the United States, when cities were booming and new construction changed city skylines daily, wood was a common building material. As fires plagued early cities, however, a shift towards steel and concrete as more trusted construction materials—both mass energy consumers and non-renewable resources—became commonplace. Michael Green, one of the world’s leading experts in building skyscrapers out of wood and principal architect at Michael Green Architecture (MGA), hopes to change that.

Courtesy of MGA

Cross laminated timber, a common building material for MGA, is as strong as steel and fire resistant. The panels are engineered and designed with cross directional grains that increase the weight bearing potential of the beam and allow single columns to run through multiple floors. Once these prefabricated materials are shipped to a construction site, they don’t require any cutting or machinery to assemble and can be quickly fastened with hand tools, drastically decreasing the noise and air pollution generated by the construction.

Courtesy of MGA. ImageMGA's proposal for a mass timber building in Newarko

These methods, some argue, allow for rapid construction—Brock Commons in Vancouver, the world’s tallest mass timber building, went up in seven days and cost the same amount to construct as a concrete building. And there is potential for these “plyscrapers” to go even taller.

To learn more about the potential of (and pushback against) mass timber, listen to Sidewalk Lab’s podcast here. You can read more about Sidewalk Labs here.

University of British Columbia's Brock Commons, designed by Acton Ostry Architects Inc.
About this author
Cite: Olivia Jia. "Can Future Cities be Timber Cities? Google’s Sidewalk Labs Asks the Experts" 23 Oct 2018. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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