The immediate sustainability benefits of timber compared to steel and concrete, the two other widest-used building materials, are pretty obvious. Most people are already aware that wood is the only one of the three that’s renewable, and that it’s able to trap literal tons of carbon from the atmosphere, absorbing it for the duration of its lifetime so it doesn’t accumulate in the atmosphere. When it’s time for it to be replaced, wood can be reused in all sorts of creative ways, including reclamation as floorboards and furniture, before it is finally burned as fuel. And finally, timber requires far less energy in its extraction and recycling processes than steel and concrete. But for a long time, strict limits on the height of wooden buildings has kept timber from meeting its full potential.
That could all change very soon as wooden skyscrapers get green lights around the world, and studies are enacted to confirm even more benefits to using timber as a primary building material. One example is a recent life-cycle analysis on how timber can help combat climate change through the construction of compact wooden cities sourced from well-managed sustainable forests. Forest management in the European Union is leading the way to show it’s possible to produce more forest than what’s being harvested, and an integrated modern operation using today’s advanced timber technology can ensure that the benefits of carbon absorption outweigh any hazards of over-harvesting.
An article by Eduardo Wiegand on ArchDaily goes into the details, explaining how incentivizing the use of timber in construction could catch on and lead to a sustainable architecture revolution of sorts. “It is a fact that dense cities are significantly more sustainable than sprawling cities; therefore one path to more sustainable forms of living might be the planning and regulation of compact wooden cities,” says Wiegand.
“…the challenges of global warming and emissions of CO2 could be solved partially though the densification of cities using timber as the primary material of construction. In order to achieve this, structural systems and timber-based products must continue to develop, and the forestry industry should be prepared to respond to a higher demand for wood in the future, which can be achieved by increasing the productivity and efficiency of the extraction of this renewable resource.”
Pictured: Michael Green Architecture’s entry to the Reinvented Paris Competition and Sou Fujimoto + Laisne Roussel’s proposal for a tall wooden building in Bordeaux