Plyscrapers’ are on the rise globally, as architects and engineers turn to timber for large scale buildings. Concrete and steel have ruled cities for some time, and while timber has been used in construction for centuries, it’s rapidly becoming the most advanced building material in modern construction.

There are many benefits to timber buildings, however challenges still arise when building open-plan environments.

Are timber skyscrapers the way forward? Or will we continue to let our environment take the hit in return for the strength of concrete and steel?

Timber set to scrape the skies

The last decade has seen a significant global expansion in timber architecture, with Canada, Japan, Norway and England in the forefront. Vancouver is currently home to the tallest timber structure in the world (64ft tall). The student residence building at the University of British Columbia opened in July last year, and was produced in an incredibly smooth and timely manner.

Construction companies across the globe are now following suit.

The practicality of timber framed buildings has heightened their appeal, particularly for cities where earthquakes are frequent. Japanese company Sumitomo Forestry is set to build the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper with this concern in mind. 70 stories high and 90% wooden, this building will significantly overtake the Brock Commons Tallwood House in Vancouver, which stands at 18 stories high. Through this architectural innovation, Sumitomo Forestry hopes to highlight the great benefits of wooden high-rises and further encourage developers to utilise wood.

What are the benefits of building bigger with timber?

  • - Wooden structures are ideal for earthquake-prone areas. Their flexibility allows them to sway with the movement of the earth, rather than collapse.
  • - Less energy is used to transport building materials due to the decrease in weight. 
  • - Reduced on-site traffic, pollution and noise during construction. 
  • - The use of prefabricated elements means building is completed a lot faster and hassle-free.

Will things look up for the environment?

If we see an increase of wooden buildings, will we consequently cause a rise in deforestation? Companies with sights set on building timber towers say ‘no’. A higher demand of timber will ensure proper maintenance of cedar forests, and they will continue to be harvested and replanted in a sustainable manner.

Experts believe there are significant environmental advantages that are encouraging this trend.

Concrete and steel are said to be responsible for 5% and 8% of global emissions, which is quite a daunting figure for single industries. We know however, that trees actively lock away carbon dioxide in their wood, and just one cubic metre of wood absorbs a ton of CO2. It’s also an excellent insulator, meaning less heating would be required for large buildings that are prone to high energy use.

Are timber buildings a fire hazard?

Engineered wood is used to construct these skyscrapers, not to mention that large pieces of wood are difficult to set alight.

It is a requirement that large buildings are fitted with sprinklers and fire suppression systems, regardless of what material they’re constructed from.

The bottom line is that timber buildings are of no greater risk of fire than concrete or steel buildings.

The Centre for Natural Material Innovation at Cambridge University was awarded $353,785 by the Engineering Physical Sciences Research Council, to further advance in fire proofing techniques. We can expect to see safer, stronger and more durable timber buildings in the future.

Will the timber wave take over?

The innovation in this field is promising, and the future of timber architecture looks bright. However, architects and engineers must overcome current challenges by continuing to develop new wooden materials that are strong and structurally fit to support large scale construction.

Keep an eye out for the uprise of modern timber designs.