Since immemorial time, humans have constructed their shelter and homes using wood. Gradually these structures grew more complex, but wood has continued to play a fundamental role in architecture and construction. Today, especially due to growing concerns about climate change and carbon emissions, wood has been regaining significance as an important building material for the future, if used consciously and sustainably. Wood’s structural performance capabilities make it appropriate for a broad range of applications—from the light-duty repetitive framing common in low and mid-rise structures to the larger and heavier, often hybrid systems, used to build arenas, offices, universities and other buildings where long spans and tall walls are required.
If a person were to imagine a setting of complete relaxation, odds are the first image that comes to mind is a place surrounded by nature, be it a forest, the mountains, the sea, or a meadow. Rarely does one imagine an office or a shopping mall as a source of comfort and relaxation. Still, the majority of people spend almost 80-90 % of their time indoors, going back and forth from their houses to their workplaces.
Considered one of the noblest building materials - and also a favorite of many global architects - wood delivers aesthetic, structural, and practical value in the most versatile of ways. Through different techniques, such as crafted or prefabricated wood, wooden construction remains relevant not only in the history but also in the forefront of architecture and design (thanks to new technologies that have expanded its possibilities).
In California, the Governor’s Forest Management Task Force and the Office of Planning and Research announced the winners of their first-ever competition designed to highlight a category of engineered wood products known as mass timber. As the need for forest, wildfire, climate, and housing solutions grows, California is moving to expand the use of these innovative wood products, which have the potential to sequester carbon, drive healthy forest management, and increase affordable housing in California.
The history of timber construction stretches back as far as the Neolithic period, or potentially even earlier, when humans first began using wood to build shelters from the elements. The appearance of the first polished stone tools, such as knives and axes, then made wood handling more efficient and precise, increasing the thickness of wood sections and their resistance. Over the decades, the rustic appearance of these early constructions became increasingly orthogonal and clean, as a result of standardization, mass production, and the emergence of new styles and aesthetics.
When it comes to commercial and industrial buildings that need to stand the test of time, wood is proving it has the necessary resilience and strength, while offering unique advantages over steel and concrete. In retail and office spaces, wood not only offers remarkable durability, but introduces a much-desired aesthetic warmth once absent from such environments. Adding mass timber to these spaces is a kind of modern-day revival of the century-old timber post-and-beam buildings of the past. What’s old becomes new again, but with all the state-of-the-art technologies and sustainable features expected in today’s commercial buildings.
Podium construction – alternately known as platform or pedestal construction – is a building typology characterized by a horizontal division between a lower ‘podium’ and an upper tower. The podium, which is typically made of concrete or steel, is crowned by multiple light wood-frame stories. Often, the lighter upper structure contains four to five stories of residential units, while the podium houses retail, commercial, or office spaces and above- or below-grade parking. An alternative configuration sports six to seven residential stories (including the podium) and subterranean parking. Some visible examples of this podium construction style include the amenity-rich Stella residences designed by DesignArc; an attractive yet cost-effective student housing project for the University of Washington by Mahlum Architects; and the warm, modern University House Arena District also designed by Mahlum Architects in Eugene, Oregon.
Timber’s Prefab Advantage: How Offsite Prefabrication and Wood Construction can Boost Quality and Construction Speed
Prefabrication is not a new concept for architects, but its usage is evidently on the rise. With today’s limited spatial capacity and need for cost efficiency, the industrial strategy of architectural production has shifted towards an all-around-efficient approach, in some cases assembling projects in a matter of days or weeks .
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.
Concrete, an essential building material, has for decades offered us the possibility of shaping our cities quickly and effectively, allowing them to rapidly expand into urban peripheries and reach heights previously unimagined by mankind. Today, new timber technologies are beginning to deliver similar opportunities – and even superior ones – through materials like Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT).
The Hello Wood Summer School and Festival has expanded over the years to build up a lot of recognition internationally within the architecture community, with previous years having more than 1000 participants from across 70 countries and over 50 universities take part in Hello Wood’s educational event. By looking to the future and adopting an attitude of rebirth, a large part of the tenth anniversary of the festival was about criticism of the stereotypical role of the architect - one that is constrained by expectations and deadlines - while searching for the true superpower of those that want to make a change with a free spirit. Twenty workshops led by a truly global group of professionals helped to celebrate the decennial with their unique takes on the transformation of the architect. As a result of a series of rites and ceremonies that included the building of 20 installations, the week aimed at setting participants free to follow their dreams.
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.
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.
In an effort to reinvent an iconic American fast-food brand, McDonald’s U.S. has announced a new direction for the corporation, beginning with rethinking the restaurant’s current archetypal design both in its interior eating spaces and exterior urban landscape. A primary example of this commitment can be seen in the recently completed design for McDonald’s Global Flagship in Chicago by Ross Barney Architects.
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?
Wood as a building material is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Though elemental and deceivingly simple, applied technology has transformed the building material. If you have questions about how to choose and use wood, Think Wood's mission is to provide access to the expanding pool of research and information.
At a time when engineers, designers, and builders must find solutions for a resource-constrained environment, new wood technology, materials, and science are accelerating efforts to enhance safety and structural performance.
International Building Code requires all building systems, regardless of materials used, to perform to the same level of health and safety standards. These codes have long recognized wood’s performance capabilities and allow its use in a wide range of low- to mid-rise residential and non-residential building types. Moreover, wood often surpasses steel and concrete in terms of strength, durability, fire safety, seismic performance, and sustainability – among other qualities.