Industrial buildings are among the best examples of Louis Sullivan's famous phrase "form follows function." Generally, they are functional, efficient buildings, quick to build and unornamented. That is why, when we study the industrial heritage of different cities and countries, we are able to understand local materials, technologies, and traditional construction methods of the time. England's red brick factories come to mind, as well as the roof lanterns used to provide natural light to factories and other typical construction elements. Metallic and precast concrete structures are currently the most commonly used due to a combination of construction efficiency, cost, the possibility of expansive spans, and the unawareness of the benefits of other materials, such as wood. Often, these industrial warehouses are also characterized by being cold and impersonal, in addition to having a considerable carbon footprint. But Canada's experience in recent years is noteworthy, where there have been an increasing number of wooden buildings constructed for industrial programs.
In the last 25 years the wood design and construction industries have undergone great changes with the introduction of CAD and CNC robotic machines, providing this natural material with the real possibility of covering many different types of projects. The durability of wood can exceed 100 years if due care is taken in specification and construction, while building with wood provides almost infinitely flexibility. From traditional structures of pillars, beams, and wood frames to engineered wood products such as Glulam and CLT, there are options to meet every need, including through combinations with other materials such as steel and concrete.
Examples of tall wooden buildings are already a reality, as well as public buildings and even schools. But associating wood with large industrial plants is something that still strikes most people as unusual.
When developing an industrial plant, all decisions will be highly influenced by the production processes that will take place in the space. What area and dimensions are needed? What is the process from raw material to final product? How many people will work there? What types of machines will the building house? What is the minimum ceiling height? Is a completely open plan fundamental or can internal columns be tolerated? While the obvious benefit of a free floor plan relates to unimpeded flows within the building and greater flexibility in terms of layout, by including internal columns in the space, construction costs are significantly reduced.
Whether with intermediate columns or not, industrial buildings will usually need considerable spans of open space. The three most common ways to achieve large open spaces with wood are with beams, trusses, or arches. Beams generally provide the most economical solution for areas with shorter spans and reduced vertical loads (in Canada, for example, a typical vertical load corresponds to the amount of snow, which places a considerable burden on roofs). For longer spans and greater vertical loads, using traditional beams becomes unviable due to high material costs and difficulties in handling and transportation. Using glued laminated wood trusses can be the most effective way out, in which the diagonal pieces of wood withstand compression stresses and vertical steel rods support tensile loads. Arches, on the other hand, result in a curved roof, providing greater interior space without extending to the outer walls of the perimeter. The curvature and steel ties increase the cost of this system, yet effective arches can provide very economical and elegant solutions, reaching large spans.
The manufacturing of pieces within factories and the relatively quick assembly of wooden structures are two differentiating factors for places with harsh winters. These conditions can often make construction of traditional concrete structures unfeasible during various months of the year. In the context of western Canada, wood has been identified as an economical choice for the construction of industrial buildings. Produced in a factory with a high standard of quality control, the structures have a great finish and aesthetics, in addition to excellent functional characteristics. Other reasons that justify the use of wood include the use of local resources, energy efficiency, the aesthetics of the final product, and the flexibility of space. This report highlights the main reasons for choosing wood as a material for this specific context.
The example of western Canada shows us that wood can indeed be a material of the future. Through sustainable management of forests, wood can be maintained as a renewable, carbon-negative resource, a factor that has increasingly been taken into account by more entrepreneurs, consumers, and decision makers every day. Industrial buildings are examples of structures for which economy and utility have been primary design drivers. When considering - in addition to a strict analysis of construction costs - aspects such as the use of local materials, carbon footprint, the quality of internal spaces, and company image, wood can be highly attractive for the most diverse uses.