Could you build the Empire State Building out of wood?

empire state building
© Metsa

Some think that architect Michael Green is pushing the envelope and perhaps his luck with his proposals for 30 and 35 storey buildings. Now he is working with Finnish lumber giant Metsä Wood to design and build a virtual Empire State Building, just to show that they can. The point of it all: "To challenge preconceptions and explore the possibilities of wood construction."

The overall building size, floor to floor height, and column spacing are the same as the original structure. The columns extend as much as 6 stories high, with moment connections at these locations to make each column structurally continuous up to 86 stories. Box beams connect the column along the short axis of the building. Four pretensioned cables run within these beams, tying the structure together from side to side. Kerto LVL slabs span the long axis of the building connecting the beams together and forming the top cord of the beams.

There are a lot of benefits to building with wood; Metsä notes that because it weighs so much less, they can build with less disruption, using a fifth the number of trucks running through Manhattan. It goes together faster too.

As for wood's supposed bête noire, fire safety: Metsä claims that it is safer than steel.

To achieve the fire ratings required for 102 story building, additional fire protection would still be required in the form of sprinklers, and drywall, but many parts of the wood structure could remain exposed. In contrast, the steel structure of the Empire State Building needs to be fully protected by insulation, drywall, stone and other fire resistant materials to provide safe resistance to fire.

They are doing a lot of work here for a virtual building; this is just the conceptual stage. Then they continue to do through the technical analysis and "construction." They have already completed a virtual wooden Colosseum and it's quite elaborate.

I suspect it will be a while before building codes allow 86 storey towers to be built out of wood. Even Metsä admits that "We’re not saying that everything should be built of wood. We are saying that wood should always be considered as a true alternative in everything from structures to exteriors." That's not unreasonable at all.

Could you build the Empire State Building out of wood?
Michael Green and a big Finnish wood company are going to find out.

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