Are tall wooden structures the new skyscraper?

When considering eco-friendly building materials, one in particular jumps to mind: wood. Trees are a natural resource that can be replanted to grow again, making it ideal for environmentally-conscious architects.

However, designers can often be put off by the thought of building very tall structures using this substance. Can wood really hold the structure necessary for building skyscraper-esque buildings?

The answer is an overwhelming yes. With the right design, wood can certainly be used to create buildings five storeys high or even higher. Historic Japanese architecture often utilised timber for creating elaborate, tall buildings that have lasted for many decades, if not centuries. Even more modern buildings have been constructed with the material; the CLT building in London is 9 storeys tall and is formed of wood.

Of the issues that may occur with buildings made of timber, the most pertinent seems to be the risk of fire. A little-known fact of heavy timber is that it has charring rate that should prevent wood from burning completely, protecting the internal spaces from setting alight and preventing the structure from collapsing. Wood is actually better for preventing fire damage than reinforced steel.

Even as part of the construction process, bamboo (although technically a grass) has been used for centuries as a scaffolding material in Hong Kong. The rate at which bamboo grows makes it a renewable resource, while the strength of the scaffold is incredibly strong.

There are quite a few striking buildings built with this easily-replaceable material. For example, the Richmond Olympic Oval in Canada, used for ice-skating events for the past Winter Olympics in 2010, used beetle-affected wood to great effect in its expansive ceiling. Its construction was a direct result of the British Columbian law.

At Fahad Al Tamimi architecture, we are always looking for new and exciting materials to place into urban spaces and as part of this process it seems logical to review older materials which have similar properties. By constructing from wood, homes instantly become cheaper and, while bricks and mortar is always more desirable, wooden framed houses can be as warm and secure.


By Fahad Al Tamimi MD

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