Use a tree as a building material, and you give it a magnificent second life. After all, a tree that has lived for two centuries is the very definition of sustainable.
Wood is timeless, adaptable, natural, genuine and beautiful. Wood personifies nature in its sustainable character, and—when used as a building material—creates beauty, harmony and superiority in a design.
Wood has been used for years to build houses and shelters, offices and skyscrapers. Yet in this age of the climate crisis, could it be used to build the future?
Vancouver architect Michael Green believes that sustainable materials such as wood lie at the core of ecoconscious building. He points out that the building industry accounts for 40 percent of global climate emissions.
Many building materials contribute to the carbon footprint of the construction industry. The manufacturing of concrete, the most frequently used building material in the world, generates 8 percent of the world’s CO² emissions yearly. Growing demand has inspired a global shortage of one of concrete’s chief ingredients: sand—the second most popular natural resource on the planet, after water.
Wood is the sole naturally regenerating material that we can harvest without losing biodiversity or carbon storage, that we can use in big projects. Contemporary developments in engineered timber have supplied us with a variety of composite wood materials—such as CLT (cross-laminated timber)—that boast similar strength-to-weight ratios to steel and concrete, with lower emission profiles.
This is particularly important when one considers that by the year 2050, the UN estimates that the world population will reach 9.8 billion, with two-thirds of those individuals residing in thickly populated areas. Metropolitan streetscapes in cities will be built vertically in form. Taller buildings will be the order of the day.
Laws and building codes are being enhanced to allow for the construction of taller mass-timber buildings from the year 2021. CLT, known for being light, strong, durable, and resistant to fire, ranks among the most ecofriendly choices for large-scale building projects. High-rise buildings constructed from mass timber store CO², thus combatting climate change. The initial skyscrapers built from timber are already springing upward from the landscape of our built environment.
Wood connects us to nature and has been employed to construct classic structures such as Swiss chalets, Norwegian mountain huts, etc. Suddenly building designers are investigating the structures of these classic buildings, and old building styles like Yakisugi, an ancient Japanese technique for finishing buildings, are being revisited.
The buildings spotlighted in this text explore the full built spectrum created with wood–including treehouses in Costa Rica to standing camps in Tasmania to healing houses in Japan—in an effort to make something old very new, and applicable to the transformation of the built environment.