Solid Wood: Case Studies in Mass Timber Architecture, Technology & Design (Book Review)

Joseph Mayo
© Joseph Mayo

For years, wood has been regarded as an outdated and inadequate building material, having been seemingly supplanted by modern materials like steel and concrete. But after a century of declining use, wood is enjoying a revival in architecture today, thanks to its versatility, durability and surprising strength, and to recent advancements in building technology. Make no mistake: walking into a space built with mass timber feels different -- it's warmer, and more alive, and it may even someday replace steel and concrete.

Giving a well-documented overview of this modern renaissance in wood building is Seattle-based architect Joseph Mayo's recent book, Solid Wood: Case Studies on Mass Timber Architecture, Technology and Design. The book delves deeply into the rapidly developing modern wood building industry, while also providing a background history of wood building worldwide: its rise, its decline, and current resurgence due to the building industry's constant search for more cost-effective and eco-friendly materials. The book explains some of the research behind wood as a more sustainable choice: not only is it a renewable resource, it is also less carbon-intensive to produce than other materials like steel, aluminum and concrete. Thus, we see massive timbers being utilized in various engineered forms such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), as glulam (glue-laminated timber) and laminated veneer lumber (LVL), and more, as materials for housing, institutions and even tall, multi-storey buildings.

The book goes into detail about how these solid wood materials are actually created and used, and some of the structural concepts behind them, as well as the advantages behind solid wood prefabrication, its simplicity in detailing, and increased efficiency in construction times and transportation.

Joseph Mayo© Joseph Mayo
Joseph Mayo© Joseph Mayo
Joseph Mayo© Joseph Mayo

The book also gives an excellent overview of various modern, high-performance connections that are now being used in the solid wood building industry. Old fears of wood's combustibility are put to rest with the book's coverage of how modern massive timbers are fire-tested, and how mass timber will actually retain its strength for an hour or more after being exposed to high temperatures, while steel will fail after a relatively short time. Information about solid wood's acoustic performance, strategies to prevent moisture and weathering issues are also described.

Joseph Mayo© Joseph Mayo

Twenty-eight case studies from the UK, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Italy, Canada, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia are presented to show how solid wood was used to create offices, schools, hotels, institutions and multi-family housing. Each case is richly photographed and illustrated with construction details, and Mayo also provides a brief history of wood building in each country, and how it has evolved for modern day applications. Design challenges and successes, as well as issues with restrictive building codes that may not have incorporated the latest in materials research, are elaborated in each case.

Joseph Mayo© Joseph Mayo

Written concisely and clearly, Solid Wood dispels obsolete myths about wood building and presents a compelling case of why mass timber is an appealing, carbon-responsible choice for building not only residential structures, but also large, sophisticated, multi-storey buildings. Designers, builders and the curious layperson alike will find Solid Wood an informative and enlightening resource, providing crucial insights into this venerable material, evolved and made relevant again for a more sustainable twenty-first century. To order, or find more information, visit Routledge.

Solid Wood: Case Studies on Mass Timber Architecture, Technology and Design
by Joseph Mayo
Paperback: 358 pages
Publisher: Routledge
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0415725305
ISBN-13: 978-0415725309

Tags: Book Reviews | Green Building | Wood Construction

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