Mass timber is emerging all across North America. Beyond the benefits of natural materials and visible structures, the capabilities of industrialized offsite construction are beginning to change the model of delivery for an increasing range of buildings. When a California owner-developer proposed the first mass timber building in the state, they chose the experience, scope, and qualifications carefully, and the entire mass timber package was delivered on a train from Quebec, Canada.
Mass timber: The Latest Architecture and News
Denver-based architecture office Tres Birds announced that Denver’s tallest mass timber building is planned to break ground in July 2023. The 12-story building named “Return to Form” will be located in the River North Arts District in Denver, US. Its structural system uses mass timber, a new technology that utilizes small-diameter trees from sustainably managed forests. Through continuous planting and responsible harvesting, these forests are becoming a source of renewable and low-impact building materials. The mass timber structure is comprised of wood panels that are glued and laminated together. This provides not only strength and stability but also fire resistance.
Danish architecture practice Schmidt Hammer Lassen revealed the winning design of an international competition for the world’s tallest residential timber building. Located in the Swiss city of Winterthur, the 100-metre tall Rocket&Tigerli tower developed in close corporation with the local Swiss architecture studio Cometti Truffer Hodel echoes the 19th-century industrial architecture of the surrounding area through its facades of dark red and yellow terracotta bricks. The project proposes a variety of residential typologies and amenities that are set to create a vibrant neighbourhood.
In the original design for the Sydney Opera House, Jørn Utzon envisioned the shells supported by precast concrete ribs under a reinforced concrete structure, which turned out to be prohibitively expensive. As one of the first projects to use computational calculations, the final solution - reached jointly between the architect and the structural engineer - consisted of a precast ribbed system of concrete shells created from sections of a sphere. At the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the project team used CATIA software (typically used by the aerospace industry) to model and materialize the complex curvilinear shapes of the titanium-coated volume designed by Frank Gehry. Challenging projects tend to spark the creativity of those involved to make them possible, but there are constructive systems that interact well with existing technologies. This is the case, for example, with engineered wood and the BIM system. When used simultaneously, they usually achieve highly efficient and sustainable projects.
The Potential of Bamboo and Mass Timber for the Construction Industry: An Interview with Pablo van der Lugt
Pablo van der Lugt is an architect, author and speaker. His research focuses on the potential of materials such as bamboo and mass timber for the construction sector, and their positive impacts on the world. “Throughout my professional career both in university (including my PhD research on the carbon footprint of engineered bamboo and wood) and industry the past 15 years I have found there are many misconceptions about these materials which hamper their large scale adoption. For this reason I ‘translated’ my research findings into two contemporary books for designers and architects about the potential of bamboo: Booming Bamboo, and engineered timber: Tomorrow’s Timber. They aim to dispel these myths and show the incredible potential of the latest generation of biobased building materials in the required transition to a carbon neutral, healthy and circular built environment.” We recently had the opportunity to talk with him about these topics. Read more below.
For some, it may be terrifying to think that we inhabit a sphere orbiting the Sun, whose core has temperatures of up to 6,000°C and all human activities are located on the Earth's crust, the smallest layer in thickness, in the so-called tectonic plates. These plates float on the mantle, more precisely in the asthenosphere, and sometimes collide, causing earthquakes. As we can see in this interactive map, earthquakes are much more frequent than we imagine, with dozens occurring daily around the world, many of them unnoticed. But some are extremely potent, and when they occur near urban areas, they are one of the most destructive forces on Earth, causing death and damage to the built environment.
With the advancement of research, tests and experiments in engineering, countries and regions with tectonic activities already have the knowledge to reduce the danger of death and damage caused by these events. Some solutions and materials work better in the event of an earthquake. Wood is one of them.
As architects face up to the need for ethical, sustainable design in the age of climate change awareness, timber architecture is making a comeback in a new, technologically impressive way. Largely overlooked in the age of Modernism, recent years have seen a plethora of advancements related to mass timber across the world. This year alone, Japan announced plans for a supertall wooden skyscraper in Tokyo by 2041, while the European continent has seen plans for the world’s largest timber building in the Netherlands, and the world’s tallest timber tower in Norway.
The potential for mass timber to become the dominant material of future sustainable cities has also gained traction in the United States throughout 2018. Evolving codes and the increasing availability of mass timber is inspiring firms, universities, and state legislators to research and invest in ambitious projects across the country.
The family of products that encompass mass timber –including Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), Glue-Laminated Timber (Glulam), and Mass Plywood– is increasingly becoming a viable construction alternative for the AEC industry. Timber has been a structural material for thousands of years, but these engineered wood products have broadened the field of options and provided a solid basis for architectural designers to work with, expanding upon their range of materials and finishes.
The first Shikinen Sengu was held in the year 690, in the city of Ise, Mie Prefecture, Japan. It consists of a set of ceremonies lasting up to 8 years, beginning with the ritual of cutting down trees for the construction of the new Ise Shrine and concluding with the moving of the sacred mirror (a symbol of Amaterasu-Omikami) to the new shrine by Jingu priests. Every 20 years, a new divine palace with exactly the same dimensions as the current one is built on a lot adjacent to the main sanctuary. Shikinen Sengu is linked to the Shinto belief in the periodic death and renewal of the universe, while being a way of passing on the ancient wood construction techniques from generation to generation.
The idea of creating a building that will have an expiration date is not a common one. In fact, the useful life of a structure is often given little consideration. When demolished, where will the materials go? Will they be disposed of in landfills or could they be reused in new projects? There are certain construction methods and materials that make this process easier. Others make reuse unfeasible, due to several factors.
Across the globe, tall wood structures have begun transforming the world of skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, ushering in an important shift to an architectural practice that has traditionally been dominated by steel and concrete. Typically defined as wood-constructed buildings over 14 stories or 50 meters high, the past six years have seen over 44 tall wood buildings built or underway around the world. Notable examples include Michael Green Architecture and DLR Group’s T3 and Team V Architectuur’s upcoming 73 meter residential tower HAUT.
Yes, we know. We have been talking a lot about carbon. Not only here, but everywhere people seem to be discussing the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide, fossil fuels, carbon sequestration, and several other seemingly esoteric terms that have increasingly permeated our daily lives. But why is carbon so important and why do we, as architects, architecture students, or architecture enthusiasts, have to care about something that seems so intangible?
Structural timber is in the midst of a renaissance; an ironic trend given that timber is arguably the most ancient of building materials. But new innovations in structural timber design have inspired a range of boundary-pushing plans for the age-old material, including everything from bridges to skyscrapers. Even more crucially, these designs are on the path to realization, acceding to building codes that many (mistakenly) view as restrictive to the point of impossibility.
The timber structures of today aren't just breaking records - they're doing it without breaking the rules.
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.
Tall timber buildings are on the rise. Design teams around the world are taking advantage of ever-evolving mass timber technologies, resulting in taller and taller structures. Building off our recent article exploring the future of high-rise buildings, we’re taking a deeper dive into new emerging timber technologies and the advantages of building taller with wood. This tutorial explores how to make tall timber structures a reality.
Quebec Wood Export Bureau is adding another tool to your arsenal: a free BIM plugin on Revit. With the help of its wood-producing members, the nonprofit group has stepped into the free software world to put a growing suite of structural wood system components at architects’ fingertips.
Hotel Magdalena, the latest from Bunkhouse Group, a Texas-based hospitality company known for the highly Instagrammed El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas, is an 89-room hotel that plays on Austin‘s music culture and love for lakeside living. Named after Mary Magdalene, the hotel is part of the group’s hotels that are named after Saints, neighboring the popular Hotel Saint Cecilia and Saint Cecilia Residences, which are currently under construction.
Modern timber construction is nothing short of breathtaking. The wooden arches and unique curves delight even the most creative architects. The scale and perception of a wooden building make it blend in with the decor while still remaining noticeable. The inspiration and the possibility of achieving this type of construction are now trending upward, but who has the knowledge and expertise for these projects? The province of Quebec does, a world leader in mass timber construction.
The Atlassian Sydney Headquarters, the soon to be “world’s tallest hybrid timber building” is being built in Sydney, Australia. Designed by SHoP in partnership with BVN, the 40-story high tower will provide, once completed in 2025, a new and innovative space for technology giant Atlassian.