The Sky is the Limit for New Timber Buildings

sou fujimoto timber building

The 21st century is gearing up to become the golden age of wooden architecture. Over the next 40 years, we’ll likely need nearly 2.5 trillion square feet of new construction to support growth, and the world’s architects, developers, governments and other institutions are increasingly calling for the use of wood as a primary material.

In a new piece called “The Trees and the Forest of New Towers,” The New York Times explains why. The short answer? Sustainability, naturally. But that’s not all.

‘We’re past the tipping point in the acceptance of wood,’ said Thomas Robinson, founder of the Portland, Ore., firm Lever Architecture, which recently completed the Nature Conservancy’s local offices and community center using Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood and is working on an expanded mass-timber headquarters for Adidas. ‘The people who are the innovators, looking for the next thing, a richer experience for their employees or how they live, they’re turning to mass timber.’ The benefits are aesthetic and environmentally responsible, he added. ‘People just connect to wood in a way that is visceral.’”

People might not think that cutting down trees to build architecture is environmentally sensitive, but that’s where sustainably managed forests come in, strategically planted and harvested to ensure an ongoing supply that meets demand while also providing essential wildlife habitats, capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere and giving us the green spaces we need to be healthy.

Advancements in engineered wood have enabled huge multi-story timber towers to be constructed around the globe. The International Building Code was changed last year to allow wooden buildings up to 270 feet tall, and while the United States code won’t adopt new standards until 2021, some states are already allowing projects based on the new criteria to be submitted.

Check out some of the tall wooden building projects we’ve covered recently:

Wooden Skyscraper City! New Stockholm Proposal Reaches for the Skies

This Timber Skyscraper Design for Chicago is Truly Spectacular

1,148 Feet of Timber: World’s Tallest Wooden Skyscraper Planned for Tokyo

London’s Dalston Lane is World’s Largest CLT Structure

Tree Tower: Sustainable Timber High-Rise for Toronto Incorporates Living Plants

Timber City: A New Trend of Tall Timber Architecture on Display in Washington D.C.

Wooden Skyscraper City! New Stockholm Proposal Reaches for the Skies

Wooden Skyscraper City

Why shouldn’t we have entire cities made of wood – including skyscrapers? As ultra-tall timber towers are completed around the world – with many more in the planning stages – the creation of entire wood-based developments is a natural next step. Stockholm, Sweden could be the first to realize this dream with a new proposal from Anders Berensson Architects, a conceptual housing development on the waterfront containing a whopping 31 individual cross-laminated timber towers.

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This proposal isn’t just a bunch of fantastical concept drawings destined to grab some internet attention and then disappear. The architects were commissioned by the Stockholm Center Party to design a masterplan for a new sustainable district in Stockholm as part of a larger vision for a greener, more prosperous future. The development would bring 5,000 new residences to the central docklands area of Masthamnen, for which the project is named.

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Anders Berensson Architects has been commissioned by the Stockholm Center Party to designed Stockholm’s highest, densest and most environmentally friendly new neighborhood in the cities central dock area Masthamnen by building one wooden city on top of another. In the lower city we want to build blocks with homes, offices and shops surrounded by streets, squares and a living dockside. On top of this city we want to build a city of narrow wooden skyscrapers in a public parkland that connects the new area with the surrounding hills and city parts.

The new district can be divided into three main parts. The lower block city that is built on today’s dock level. The narrow wooden skyscraper city that is built on top of the lower city and the landscape of roofs and bridges that is connected with the surrounding heights.

The lower block city consists of 19 new city blocks with 6-10 floors and contain 2500 apartments, 60000 m2 of office space and about 90 shops & restaurants. The neighborhood connects to the few existing streets that surrounds the area. To the west, the area is connected to Folkungagatan and Stadsgårdskajen by continuing these streets into the new area. To the south, the area is connected to the new residential district Persikan and Norra Hammarbyhammnen via new buildings. To the east the area connects to Saltsjökvarn via an openable walking and cycling bridge. The existing ferry terminal is planned to be kept with some adjustments to its new central location. Office spaces are planned to the noisiest parts of the terminal and the neighborhoods are designed so that all apartments either look over the boats or get a good second view when the cruising ships are moored.

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The firm previously created a proposal for a wooden skyscraper covered in numbers, called Trätoppen, for the Stockhom Center Party. These architects are well-versed in wood, and their preference to work with it comes down to its beauty, sustainability and the fact that it releases the least carbon dioxide compared to other top construction materials in common usage today.

The widespread use of wood in urban developments could transform cities as we know them, not just in terms of their environmental friendliness but in appearance as well. Imagine how much warmer and more welcoming urban buildings would feel if they were made of wood instead of so much steel and glass. With all trends pointing to skyrocketing demand for wood in the near future, we might not have to imagine for long.

1,148 Feet of Timber: World’s Tallest Wooden Skyscraper Planned for Tokyo

tokyo tower

So many tall timber building projects have been announced over the last few years, it’s hard to keep track of them all. Wood construction is definitely on an upward trend around the world as architects, developers and government officials realize just how sustainable, beautiful, safe, durable and affordable it can be.

Right now, with dozens of timber towers planned, proposed or under construction, a number of projects are competing for the title of the tallest wooden building in the world. Which ones actually make that record – however temporarily – will depend on when they’re finished relative to each other.

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When PLP Architecture announced plans for its Oakwood Tower in London – set to be the city’s second tallest building in total, after the Shard, at 1,000 feet – it seemed like it would be hard to beat. Most of the other multi-story buildings primarily made of wood that are currently in development are closer to 200 feet, which is still pretty impressive. But Tokyo’s 350 Project, if realized, will blow even Oakwood out of the water.

tokyo skyscraper

Designed by architecture firm Nikken Sekkei and Japanese developer Sumitomo Forest, the 1,148-foot-tall 350 Project skyscraper will consist of an amazing 6.5 million cubic feet of wood in the braced tubing structural system alone, its framing specifically designed to withstand earthquakes. The visible timber frame highlights the physicality of the wood, creating lots of open outdoor spaces on every level, some planted with trees and other vegetation.

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It’s not set to be completed until 2041, which is awfully far away, and there’s no telling what could happen before then. But the project would easily become Japan’s tallest building as well as the tallest timber tower in the world. Nikken Sekkei hopes that even the attention-grabbing renderings will help pique public interest in timber architecture and give the forestry industry in rural areas a big boost.

Tree Tower: Sustainable Timber High-Rise for Toronto Incorporates Living Plants

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Rising 18 stories from street level in Toronto, with each of its balconies augmented by verdant greenery, this sustainable structure shows off the capabilities of tall timber construction. Penda Architects teamed up with wood consulting firm Tmber to propose a modular high-rise tower built almost entirely from wood. Massive wood panels make up the main structural elements of the building, and the facade is clad in timber panels.

timber tower

Such extensive use of wood in a 200-foot-tall building will be a first for Toronto, and the architects hope it will help jump-start a trend of sustainable wooden architecture throughout the city. They joke that they’re growing the materials for future expansion of the building right on its own balconies in the form of living trees.

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“Our cities are an assembly of steel, concrete and glass,” says Penda. “If you walk through the city and suddenly see a tower made of wood and plants, it will create an interesting contrast. The warm, natural appearance of wood and the plants growing on its facade bring the building to life and could be a model for environmental friendly developments and sustainable extensions of our urban landscape.”

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The connection between the visible wooden construction of the building and the living trees “helps further develop a true ecological high rise, supplies its residents with fresher air and provides a lower carbon footprint,” says Mark Stein, CEO of Tmber. “The extensive use of wood will set ambitious sustainability targets and will be a catalyst for similar developments in Canada.”

The mixed-use building will contain residential units as well as public facilities like a community workshop, cafe and daycare center.

Game Changer: Engineered Wood Opens Doors in the Construction Market


Is engineered wood ‘the new concrete?’ As demand grows, some industry sources say mass timber is set to open new doors in construction for the lumber industry, offering lucrative opportunities at the intersection of timber and tech. Advances in the processes used to make cross-laminated timber and other engineered wood products have set up a boom for tall wooden buildings with similar if not better structural integrity than those made with steel and concrete, making the construction industry as a whole more environmentally friendly.

Made from industrially dried quick-growing wood – including pine – CLT is up to four times lighter than reinforced concrete. A building made with CLT instead of traditional concrete uses up to 70 percent less material and can cut construction times by a third, sending project profitability through the roof. Developers are definitely taking note.

In a recent issue of the property insurer GenRe’s ‘Property Matters’ publication, Property/Casualty Senior Consulting Underwriter Leo Ronken examines “what’s so good about wood,” going down a long list of the attributes that have made engineered wood increasingly popular with architects, legislators and construction pros.

“In the global trend toward the construction of buildings that meet ecological needs, wood has some clear advantages over traditional construction materials such as steel and concrete. With advances in engineered wood materials and components come possibilities to construct increasingly larger buildings – a trend being witnessed around the world.”

Real estate services firm JLL has also noted the trend and what it could mean moving forward, calling it a ‘game changer.’

“The emergence of successful mass timber projects across all sectors is a trend which looks set to continue and develop as the industry demands more innovation. As Lucas Epp, Head of Engineering at StructureCraft in North America, says mass timber projects require fewer construction workers on site, less waste and higher quality of work. ‘Mass timber office buildings are also now competing with steel and concrete on cost,’ he adds.”

The forest products industry has long depended on single family homes, but mass timber opens the possibility of entrance into new markets where wooden framing was previously seen as inappropriate. Buildings made with mass timber are able to meet strict building codes, including those measuring fire resistance.

Another benefit of increased demand for CLT is the fact that it can be made with smaller, second-growth timber, reducing the need for so many big, solid logs from older trees and fueling greater efficiency at mills.

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Timber City: A New Trend of Tall Timber Architecture on Display in Washington D.C.

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The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. doesn’t usually do current events exhibitions, but its curators say that all changed this year with Timber City due to a coming evolution in architecture. Namely: the spread of high-rise wooden structures, which are taking off across the world so fast, we can barely keep track of which one’s currently holding the record as the highest. Timber City examines tall-timber construction as it expands into a contemporary trend, comparing it to growth in the use of reinforced concrete in the early 20th century.

The exhibit shows off a wide variety of new architecture being made with new types of wooden construction techniques, including the use of cross-laminated timber (CLT). While its safety has already been tested and demonstrated convincingly enough to prompt new building codes and the embrace of architects, this type of tall timber architecture won’t be accepted as mainstream until consumers appreciate it for its physical beauty, according to Professor Susan Piedmont-Palladino, one of the project’s curators.

“This fall, the Museum challenges the notion that wood is an antiquated building material when it opens Timber City,” reads the project’s website. “The exhibition demonstrates the many advantages offered by cutting-edge methods of timber construction, including surprising strength, fire resistance, sustainability and beauty. Drawing attention to the recent boom in timber construction worldwide, Timber City further highlights several U.S. based projects, including two winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council.”

The exhibit went up on September 17th and will remain in place through May 21st, 2017, so if you get a chance to visit Washington D.C., pop into the National Building Museum and check it out.

Pictured: The 130-foot-tall Framework Building in Portland, Oregon