Not only is wood a naturally sustainable, renewable material – it can actually help the fight against climate change by sequestering carbon dioxide, while concrete manufacturing pumps the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry confirmed that switching to wood construction is a boon for the environment in several different ways, stressing that sustainable forest management creates jobs and reduces the risk of forest fires, too. And as a matter of fact, increasing wood harvests could actually lead to greater benefits.
“The 3.4 billion cubic meters of wood harvested each year accounts for only 20% of new annual growth,” reads the study. “Increasing the wood harvest to 34% or more would have several profound and positive effects. Emissions amounting to 14-31% of global CO2 would be avoided by creating less steel and concrete, and by storing CO2 in the cell structure of wood products. A further 12-19% of annual global fossil fuel consumption would be saved, including savings from burning scrap wood and unsellable materials for energy.”
The study was undertaken by scientists from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the University of Washington’s College of the Environment. The results make it clear that using wood to build large-scale architectural and infrastructure projects, from skyscrapers to bridges, is an essential step to sustainably meeting demand for new construction as economic development surges, especially in places like Asia, Africa and South America.
Meanwhile, new construction techniques are making wood even stronger and more versatile, especially cross-laminated timber, which is at the center of all the new record-breaking multi-story wood buildings that are currently being built or planned around the world. While most of that development is happening in Europe, Portland, Oregon is currently the center of wood construction innovation in the United States, according to Newsweek. The tallest wood-framed buildings in the country are currently in progress there as local timber product manufacturers make CLT from regionally produced wood.
Top image: A new 12-story mixed-use wooden building planed for Portland, Oregon by Lever Architecture.
The idea of what a wooden home looks like is shifting as contemporary architects use this natural, sustainable material in surprising new ways, contrasting its warmth with angular modern silhouettes. This incredible beach cottage by Marc Koehler Architects is a stellar example, using timber inside and out for a look that fits the sandy setting, yet is firmly rooted in the 21st century.
Wood continues to come into its own as a building material of the future, remaining one of the most environmentally friendly choices as well as the most beautiful. ‘Dune House,’ located on a northern Dutch island, shows off the capabilities of timber cladding across a faceted facade.
The shape of the house was designed to make the most of the plot’s views of the sea and landscape, with large windows along one of the angular surfaces capturing sunlight in the winter for passive heating.
Inside, split levels are arranged around a spiraling staircase, with large wooden beams, wide planks and unfinished plywood taking center stage.
Leave it to Japanese architect Kengo Kuma to continuously re-imagine what buildings primarily made of wood can look like, putting lumber to use in the most unexpected ways. We previously featured a few of Kuma’s strikingly unconventional designs which include criss-crossing slats, artistic arrangements of ceiling beams and interwoven poles, often incorporating Japan’s ancient joinery techniques.
This time, Kuma has helped create a light-filled community space along with a team of graduate students from the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley. ‘Nest We Grow’ brings quintessentially Californian ideas about architecture to Asia, with a focus on renewable materials.
The award-winning design focuses on a heavy timber construction technique using large sections of wood, which is a new concept in Japan, where columns are usually made up of smaller composite pieces. Says the design team, “It took considerable effort to identify a way to join materials, which was influenced by both local carpentry practices and the Japanese material market.”
“The wood frame structure mimics the vertical spatial experience of a Japanese larch forest from which food is hung to grow and dry. A tea platform in the middle of the nest creates a gathering space where the community can visually and physically enjoy food around a sunken fireplace. Local foods make up the elevation of the Nest as people see the food forest floating above the landform.”
Criss-crossing slats, geometric assemblages of beams and latticework that lets in natural light and affords filtered views of the landscape are among the unexpected ways in which famed Japanese architect Kengo Kuma uses the timeless material of wood. Approaching architecture from a gardener’s perspective, Kuma takes issue with designers who seem to be “forcing their compositions onto nature,” setting out to work with it organically instead.
Kuma has produced some of the world’s most striking timber structures, including the Besançon Art Center and Cité de la Musique in France with its checkered composition of wood and glass (below), and the nest-like Sunny Hills, a facade for a dessert shop.
Working with smaller pieces of wood makes these designs more complex than conventional wooden structures, producing a softer effect that pulls in both the Japanese tradition of weaving and the country’s ancient joinery techniques.
For example, Kuma’s Starbucks (pictured top) – located adjacent to one of Japan’s most-visited shrines – is made of 2,000 poles that are woven together diagonally to create a sense of direction and fluidity. With this artistic approach, there’s no way to avoid staring up at the wooden structure and marveling at its beauty.
How will cities change in the future as wood becomes a viable material for skyscrapers and other large structures? The ‘timberization’ of urban areas is among the topics covered in the May 2014 issue of A+U Magazine, entitled ‘New Landscapes of Wooden Architecture.’
Nine exciting and innovative built works in wood are explored, including the stunning Waitomo Glowworm Caves Visitor Center in New Zealand (pictured top), ‘Bear’s House in the Woods’ by Alberta Architekturbüro and Patrick Thurston (above), and the Makoko Floating Schoole by NLÉ (below.)
Another notable inclusion is Finland’s highest wooden multi-story structure, ‘Wood City‘ (below.) The eight-story residential buildings in Helsinki will be the first massive-wood buildings in Europe, and built with modular technology.
Many cities around the world are beginning to change their building codes to allow high-rise structures made of wood. Read more about the trend, as well as a 34-story wooden tower planned for Stockholm. A+U magazine delves into this topic and other aspects of wood technology – get the issue through ArchDaily.
Architects and builders looking for fresh inspiration in creating beautiful modern structures out of wood should take a look at the career of Gion A. Caminada, a Swiss architect who has focused his life’s work on the village of Vrin in his native region. Caminada uses wood (particularly pine) in unexpected new ways, inside and out, pairing the local tradition with modern aesthetics.
The architect’s focus lies in exploring how older methods of construction can be transformed for new uses to meet the needs of the present. Swiss alpine tradition is married with a sense of minimalism that perfectly spotlights the beauty of the wood that serves as a primary material for residences, hotels, community centers, observation towers and more. Caminada’s work runs the gamut from grand halls to humble cow sheds.
This focus goes beyond construction techniques, translating common elements of historical structures in new ways. For example, at a girls’ boarding school in Disentis, Switzerland, Caminada built faceted wooden ‘cuddle corners’ for social congregation, modeled after the benches traditionally built around large stoves in Swiss peasant homes.
It would be cool to see this combination of local tradition and modern architecture translated in different areas of the world, including the Northeast United States, where a rich history of wooden architecture has its own, very particular personality.