Is an 80 storey plyscraper too much of a wood thing?

toothpick tower
© PLP Architecture via Cambridge University

Given our name it should be no surprise that we love wood, particularly if it is sustainably harvested and is displacing carbon-intensive concrete and steel. We love sustainably grown chocolate too, but know that one can have too much of a good thing. And I wonder, if perhaps a 984 foot tower that would be the second tallest in London, is too much of a wood thing.

It is proposed by Cambridge University's Department of Architecture, working alongside PLP Architecture and engineering firm Smith and Wallwork, and has been pitched to Mayor Boris, the go-to guy for shards and cheese-graters and walkie fryscrapers, and now, in the London fashion of giving silly names to skyscrapers, the Toothpick. Dr. Michael Ramage of Cambridge discusses the need to build tall and explains the benefits of wood:

If London is going to survive it needs to increasingly densify. One way is taller buildings. We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers. The fundamental premise is that timber and other natural materials are vastly underused and we don’t give them nearly enough credit. Nearly every historic building, from King’s College Chapel to Westminster Hall, has made extensive use of timber.

toothpick in the distance© PLP Architecture via Cambridge University

Yes, but they are not 80 storeys tall. Nor do you have to build 80 storeys to densify. Here, the architects are trying to build another tower as is usually done in steel and concrete when they say right in the same press release:

The tall timber buildings research also looks towards creating new design potentials with timber buildings, rather than simply copying the forms of steel and concrete construction. The transition to timber construction may have a wider positive impact on urban environments and built form, and offers opportunities not only to rethink the aesthetics of buildings, but also the structural methodologies informing their design as well.

Just as major innovations in steel, glass and concrete revolutionised buildings in the 19th and 20th centuries, creating Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace and the Parisian arcades described by Walter Benjamin, innovations in timber construction could lead to entirely new experiences of the city in the 21st century.

toothpick over london© PLP Architecture via Cambridge University

So why not show us better ways and better places to achieve density instead of building an 80 storey toothpick. Give us some new aesthetics, methodologies and experiences (bring back the Euroloaf!). 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.

Is an 80 storey plyscraper too much of a wood thing?
It may be treesonous for me to say so, but there are more sensible ways to use our favorite building material.

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