Yet Another "World's Tallest Timber Tower" Going Up in Norway

©. Moeleven Limtre via Archdaily

It may be treesonous of me to say this, but we should stop this silly competition to be tallest.

If you search TreeHugger you will find eight posts with the words "tallest timber tower". Here is the latest -- an 18-story building in Brumunddal, a small town in Norway.

Brumunddal from water

© Moeleven Limtre via Archdaily

When you look at a photograph or Google map of Brumundal, the first thing you might wonder is, why does anyone need an 18 story building here, especially one that is pushing the edge of the technical envelope like this?

The second thing you might wonder is, what happened to Brock Commons at 18 stories, isn't it the world's tallest timber tower? Well, no, because evidently the rules, as set by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) that runs the world's tallest buildings lists, have changed, and it is now calling buildings like Brock Commons "wood-concrete Hybrids" because it has a concrete core of elevators and fire exits instead of being 100 percent wood. It's not pure enough.

I am wondering if perhaps we are at the point where this competition to be the tallest timber tower is just getting silly, especially when the Scandinavians are brilliant at designing mid-rise buildings that make far more sense in wood.

After meeting Anthony Thistleton and and discussing his Dalston Lanes project, I wrote:

Neither Thistleton or Waugh have much time for the super-tall wood towers that architects are competing to build, and prefer to build mid-rise. I think they are right, that it is a better typology for CLT and wood construction. That's why I have written that With wood on the rise, it's time to bring back the Euroloaf. This is what wood buildings want to be.

Writing in Dezeen, Clare Farrow says much the same thing.

In fact, Andrew Waugh's argument is that we don't necessarily need to be thinking of wooden skyscrapers in London, however seductive the concept is, but rather of increasing density across the board. He is thinking more in terms of 10-15 storey buildings, which many believe to be the comfortable height for human beings. What is needed, he argues, is a broader political understanding of the potential of engineered timber.

When you watch the arty videos about Mjøstårnet, there is a lot about finding new solutions to old questions, but it never tells us what the questions are. When you read the ArchDaily post, there is a lot about the engineering.

Mjøstårnet has a base width of 16 meters but Abrahamsen believes that it is possible to build taller if this is increased: “It’s mainly the width that determines how tall we may build a timber building. Greater width means the building sways less. A wider building would make it unproblematic to build higher than 100 meters, and even perhaps 150 meters or more..... The main issue in the construction is the lightweight property of the timber frame that can sway up to 140 millimeters at the top when faced with the strong winds of the region. To eliminate this problem, concrete floor slabs will be used on the seven top floors to increase the weight towards the top and slow down the swaying. The building will also be anchored into the ground with piles up to 50 meters deep.

Really, these guys are fighting nature to keep the building upright and in the ground.

Dalston Lane Plan

© Waugh Thistleton

Waugh Thistleton had the same problem in London with Dalston Lanes, noting that a problem with such a light building isn't holding it up, but holding it down. Wind loads become more important. So they designed the building to be low and castle-like, built around courtyards, spread out instead of tall. The form of the building was a reflection of the qualities of the building material. I described it as "the built form that defines great European cities."

base of building

© Moeleven Limtre via Archdaily

Louis Kahn famously asked a brick what it wanted to be, and it apparently responded 'I like an arch.' Waugh Thistleton look at the properties of wood, and it wants to be low and wide. Rune Abrahamsen and Voll Arkitekter try to make it tall and skinny and have to load it down with concrete and tie it down with piles. Just because they want to build the world's tallest building, a title it might hold for a couple of months.

Perhaps we should do a little re-think about this "tallest wood building" thing. Instead, how about designing around the people who live in them and around the nature of the material they are built from, which for hundreds of years has been low and wide, rather than tall and thin.