There are many reasons to promote the use of wood in construction. The main one is carbon; if a tree falls in the forest, the CO2 that was absorbed while it grew is released as it rots. If a tree is harvested and turned a building and a new tree planted, then the carbon is locked in for the life of the building and the new tree absorbs more CO2.
But in Cascadia, the Pacific Northwest in the USA and Canada, the forests historically provided thousands of jobs in the forestry industry. A lot of these jobs disappeared when the big trees were chopped down and when steel and concrete became the common materials for construction.
That’s one of the things that is so neat about the Framework Building, an 11 storey wood tower that is starting construction in Portland shortly. It is not just a building but a rethink of the industry. From Lever Architecture:
Framework is part of a mutually beneficial cycle between natural resources, the rural timber industries that rely on these resources, and the cities served by the completion of these buildings. Demand for tall wood buildings in urban areas drives economic opportunity in rural areas by the creation of jobs and manufacturing of wood products to meet the market need.
The building was first on TreeHugger when it won a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Softwood Lumber Board, and Binational Softwood Lumber Council, which provided $1.5 million for testing and peer review, since 11 storeys goes way beyond what has been allowed in the building code.
So there was earthquake testing of the structure, and fire testing of the Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) that the building is made of. CLT is described by a former state senator as "the greatest thing since sliced wood" and I certainly concur. It is strong and safe and they have been testing it like mad to make sure that this building would stay standing up in earthquake or fire. According to a great brochure put out by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute,
David Barber, a principal with Arup, the firm serving as the project’s fire, acoustic and sustainability engineer, says the main re safety concern for Framework was ensuring that the steel connections between columns and beams would remain structurally sound when exposed to fire for two hours. To avoid a connection failure that would cause the building to collapse, the design team protected the steel with an extra layer of wood, which burns at a predictable rate and is a good insulator.
Connecting directly with the people who were making the materials for a project resonated with me in the same way the farm-to-table movement has changed how we relate to our food. As a firm, we are very much driven by the ingredients – the materials – that go into constructing buildings. This “forest to frame” approach, as we call it, has led us to seek projects that are reshaping how people think about wood construction.
The Framework Building is also being put to good use, as the headquarters for “B corporations—businesses certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. The housing component of the project accommodates residents earning less than 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI).”
It is such a great demonstration of who architects and developers can make buildings that really do make our lives better. Or as Thomas Robinson notes:
Some people are surprised by the movement to construct more apartments, hotels, condominiums and offices with wood. But using a natural material that sequesters carbon is merely an extension of a longstanding commitment among the architecture, engineering and construction communities to produce truly sustainable buildings.
We need more of this.