This is the year that wood construction got BIG and TALL. Things are happening all over the world as building codes evolve, and architects and builders start cranking them out. The technology is evolving too, as new (and old) methods of working with wood hit the market. It was a very interesting year.
You can't go wrong starting with Kengo Kuma, and his Nest We Grow in Hokkaido. Interestingly, in a country with a couple of century's worth of experience with wood joints
, this was put together with fast, clunky American style nuts and bolts. This did not go well at first: "It took considerable effort to identify a way to join materials, which was influenced by both local carpentry practices and the Japanese material market." More in TreeHugger: Kengo Kuma's "Nest We Grow" wins Wood Design Award
© Trent Bell
What started as a post about this beautiful summer home in Maine designed by Gologic in Buildings can be boxy but beautiful if you have a good eye
turned into a discussion about the merits of roof overhangs and eaves. "Commenter Robert asked "Why have overhangs been eschewed?" I eschewed on this for a while and concluded that the answer is "Because they can." In fact, I learned later in the year that in many places, like Scotland for example,
with very high winds, eaves are eschewed because it is less likely that the roof will be torn off by the wind. Of course now we have tie-downs and can engineer roofs to stay put, but it is part of the vernacular now. More in TreeHugger:
All about eaves
and about the boxy but beautiful house in Maine, built from cross laminated timber: Buildings can be boxy but beautiful if you have a good eye
Actually this post was titled Hats off to this Japanese house with a big cantilevered roof
but I continued with the eaves puns, alluding to the Barry McGuire classic from the sixties
that is probably due for a re-issue. It is actually a really clever and economical design for a house, but " I do worry though about what might happen in a big windstorm, how much uplift can that roof take, might these be eaves of destruction?" More in TreeHugger: Hats off to this Japanese house with a big cantilevered roof
© Joshua Jay Elliott
With all the discussion of "tall wood" and the focus on fancy stuff like Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), the really interesting moves were more prosaic. We learned about Nail Laminated Timber (NLT)
at the end of 2015 and have started to see more and more buildings using traditional mill decking, the way we built wood buildings used to be built. It still works. So does the plan; this building is extraordinary in it's ordinariness.
This is a working office building, constructed much like warehouse buildings have been constructed in the Northwest for 150 years, with a straightforward, wide open plan. In fact looking at the plan, there is absolutely nothing notable at all. That's what's so interesting about it; these buildings worked well for all kinds of functions, from warehouses then to trendy startups now.
More in TreeHugger: Framework Building is pretty ordinary. That's why it's so exciting
More in TreeHugger: The rise of tall wood
This is a slideshow of a lecture I gave to my students at the Ryerson School of Interior Design about why wood is back- the sustainability story, the technical developments, the new push to go tall. More in TreeHugger: The rise of tall wood
© Acton Ostry Architects
And indeed, wood buildings are getting tall, with this tower at the University of British Columbia currently holding the record. It was built in an incredible 66 days and will open ahead of schedule. And the wood? "the carbon stored in the mass timber structure, plus avoided greenhouse gas emissions, results in a total estimated carbon benefit of 2,563 tonnes of CO2, which is equivalent to taking 490 cars off the road for a year." More in TreeHugger: World's tallest timber tower topped off
© PLP Architecture via Cambridge University
This was perhaps treasonous of me, but a) London doesn't need more 80 storey buildings to densify, and b) at some point, other building materials make more sense. How big do the columns have to be at the ground floor to support such height and weight? I concluded:
I have no doubt that this tower can be solved technologically and that there is not much more fire risk than there might be in a steel building. But why would you? Why not make the form suit the material instead of vice versa? Make it an architectural and planning problem, not a technological one. You can be too thin and too tall.
More in TreeHugger: Is an 80 storey plyscraper too much of a wood thing?
The Toronto Star/Screen capture
I went into greater detail in this lecture given at a Sustainable Buildings conference, where I tried to make the case that wood is best used to build "missing middle" densities, and that it is the ticket for more affordable housing. What I have called the Goldilocks Density.
More in TreeHugger: Why our cities should be wood, walkable, resilient and sort of dense
Here is an example of what you can do in wood; it is the first built under the revised Ontario building code that permits six storeys in wood. It probably could not have been built economically in any other material, as it is an infill between historic buildings. A tough project in a tough city, but it works. More in TreeHugger: First 6 storey wood building in Ontario wins Wood Works! Award
© Ema Peter via V2com
A lot of the claims made about Michael Green's T3 building are arguable. It's not the largest, it's not the first, it's hardly tall, and it is not some fancy new Mass Timber Construction, it's good old post and beam with mill decking. But hey, who cares. It is, no doubt, a great example of how the new can learn from the old to make better buildings and better cities. Michael Green has built a great new old building. More in TreeHugger: Everything old is new again with the T3 building in Minneapolis
© Leigh Simpson/ Burry Port School
Another really interesting alternative technology is Brettstapel,
where wood is held together with dowels. It is all natural, made without glues, and can be done anywhere by anybody. I suspect that we are going to be seeing a lot more of this.
The Brettstapel is made from a low grade timber that they say "would otherwise be unsuitable for use in construction". By popularizing this technology, Architype is adding value, and "increasing local employment opportunities by using Welsh softwoods."
More in TreeHugger: Burry Port School is a Brettstapel beauty
Wait, there's even more ways to hold your wood together in panels; this is Holz100, from Holz100 Canada
, imported from Austria. Unlike Brettstapel, this is cross-laminated. "Timber boards are layered vertically, horizontally and diagonally into compact assembly parts. Dust-dry beech wood dowels are driven through the layers to connect them. In place the dowels absorb residual moisture from the layers and swell up to connect permanently to the surrounding wood, like branches and their tree. These dowels powerfully connect single layers of wood into one massive thick block." So you get all the benefits of CLT without the glue. More in TreeHugger: Holz100 is a cross laminated timber held together with dowels
© Steam Canoe/ OCADU
Here is yet another new technology that we will probably hear a lot more about, Press Laminated Timber or PLT. It is built up with a metal fastening system called Grip Metal, which has tiny extruded hooks that dig into the wood, sort of a metal velcro. Students and staff at OCAD University used it to build a lovely little building, but it has real promise.
The panels are assembled without the use of any glue and even though they have a stronger bond than traditional chemical adhesive methods, the components can be separated at the end of its lifetime into its pure material origins of wood and metal, making this a perfect innovation in material, process, application, product and sustainability.
More in TreeHugger: "Steam Canoe" winter station made from a new technology, Press Laminated Timber
Switching to wood isn't just a technical problem, it is a political one too. It is shaking up the construction industry, and the people in the concrete business are pushing back. Under pressure from lobbyists, an Atlanta suburb banned wood construction
. Meanwhile, the Ready Mix concrete industry attacks wood construction, says we should "Build with Strength"
I try to respond in this post, noting that wood cannot do everything; it does not make good highways. But wherever we can, wherever wood is appropriate, we should be using it, as an important step in reducing our carbon footprint. More in TreeHugger: It’s time for a concrete plan for replacing concrete in construction
There are a few more that didn't make it into the roundup, below in related links.