Gone are the days where concrete and steel, with their considerable environmental costs, are the only building materials that can be used to erect skyscrapers. Modern techniques and one of the world’s original building materials mean high-rise buildings can be more sustainable than ever before.
Wood is natural and renewable, and is now enjoying a renaissance with innovative engineering, modification and construction methods: it is unlocking new ways of thinking about constructing tall buildings across the world’s skyline.
Cross-laminated timber (or ‘CLT’) is one of the main engineered wood contributors to the creation of these new ‘plyscrapers’. Interlocking cross laminated timber panels are made by gluing layers of solid-sawn timber together, usually in alternating pattern of orientation to improve structural rigidity. In very broad terms, it’s a bit like plywood but on a much larger, thicker and stronger scale.
CLT panels are strong enough to support high loads, much lighter than concrete and steel, and can even be cut to fit when on-site – including all the door and window openings. This can make the actual construction phase easier to manage, quicker, and logistically a lot simpler.
First introduced in the 1990’s CLT or Cross-laminated timber enables architects or engineers to design and build tall, beautiful buildings, while still being kind to the environment too: as a wood product, it contains and locks in the carbon used by the original tree to grow, safely storing it in a solid useful form in the structure.
There are CLT projects all around the world. Here are just a few examples located in the United States: eight-story in Brooklyn, New York, Carbon12 building in Portland, Oregon and a six-story dormitory at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
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The Mjosa tower in Brumunddal, Norway is only 25 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty! Credit: Metsä Group
Accoya wood has often been used as a ‘perfect partner’ to mass timber buildings: complementing the interior and structural CLT frame with exterior surfaces and joinery that’s incredibly durable, dimensionally stable and resistant to the elements.
Where the choice of materials was crucial and timber was selected and used, the following projects come to mind.
The entire structure of the building, including the external walls, is CLT timber combined with glulam columns and beams with Accoya external wall cladding. This project calculated to sequester 180 tons of carbon, which in terms of embodied energy, much more than offsets the transport from Austria.
A new building complex, now known as ‘Wood City’, was built in downtown Helsinki, Finland. The complex was developed in two phases, with the first phase consisting of residential buildings and the second phase including a hotel, offices and a courtyard. The buildings are eight stories tall and are fully constructed of wood, including the supporting structures from CLT. This makes the project distinctly different from others and Accoya has been selected as the wood of choice for the exterior siding due to the project having sustainability at the forefront of its mind.
Designed by WilkinsonEyre, the village can accommodate up to 50 students with visiting staff. The high-quality and energy efficient living pods are prefabricated from cross-laminated timber (CLT), using Accoya and other materials for rapid on-site assembly. They are arranged in units and rising two to three-stories to create a welcoming social space on the campus alongside the larger industrial buildings.
Building without compromise, sustainability can be truly embedded in our buildings. The option is there to make our monuments to the skies into giant carbon stores instead of high embodied carbon-cost monoliths; to build our biggest buildings out of wooden CLT and Accoya instead of mined, refined and heavily processed aluminum, glass and concrete.
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