Image – Voll Arkitekter
City buildings could be about to be revolutionised by an exciting new material that is strong but also environmentally sustainable. The reason why that is exciting is that it has enormous implications for climate change because the buildings around you in any given city are responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The name of the revolutionary material that could shape future cities is (drum roll): wood.
At the moment the steel and cement used in building require enormous amounts of energy in production. In a recent European study, researchers showed that shifting to wood as a building material would make significant differences. That study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, showed that if 80 per cent of new residential buildings were made of wood, the buildings would store 55 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equal to 47 per cent of the emissions of Europe’s cement industry.
Moving to wood is not just some yearning for bygone days, it is viable too, since engineered wood products are fire resistant and strong. In Sydney’s Barangaroo two multi-story wooden buildings have been erected and in places like Finland and Norway, 18-storey hotels have been made of engineered wood. If sourced from forests grown in a sustainable manner shifting to wood as a building material would dramatically reduce the environmental impact of construction.
Moving to wood is not just some yearning for bygone days, it is viable too, since engineered wood products are fire resistant and strong… If sourced from forests grown in a sustainable manner shifting to wood as a building material would dramatically reduce the environmental impact of construction.
Of course, we aren’t just talking about chopping down some trees and building towns of sticks. In the first instance we need to sustainably manage any growth of the wood required and secondly, what we are talking about using is not simple wood, but things like cross-laminated timber (CLT). The process for making CLT is taking lumber boards, kiln-drying them, and then gluing them on top of each other in layers with each layer running against the grain of the layer below. The slabs of CLT that can be produced can exceed the performance of concrete and steel.
As we face the challenge of climate change, moving away from buildings made of concrete and steel is at least as important as moving away from fossil-fuel-generated energy. It looks as though new versions of good old wood may be the way forward.