The Future Is The Past: A Skyscraper Made Totally From Wood

Architect Michael Green has a vision for a 30-story skyscraper in Vancouver, built entirely out of wood.

For over 100 years, we’ve used steel and concrete to reach higher and higher into the sky. They took us all the way from the 13 stories of the Tacoma building in 1893 to the 211 stories in the Burj Khalifa today. But neither material is particularly environmentally friendly. And that’s a big problem when you realize that 70% of the world’s population could be urban by 2050.

Architect Michael Green has an idea, an old idea. He wants to build a new generation of high-rises out of wood. And he’s working on multiple projects, including a 30-story building for Vancouver, that would see this happen.

"As I write this, I sit in a 105-year-old building that is 7-stories tall and supported by solid wood columns all the way into the parking garage below the ground," Green writes Co.Design. "Today our building codes don’t conceive of building 7-stories in wood, but 100 years ago it was common in our region. The question I ask is; have we lost our spirit to innovate when we are just now catching up to century old ideas?"

Green’s work is fueled by more than passion or tradition: The last several decades have seen several breakthroughs in wood technology. Engineered wood—smaller pieces glued together, not so differently from what you see in IKEA furniture—can create a stronger metawood that we’re already using in smaller scale construction. "The manufacturers typically cut large panels of the engineered wood into small beams," explains Green. "The change is that we are asking them to keep the panels whole. This gives us much larger structural pieces to work with, which changes the scale of what we can do." The other benefit of this engineered wood is that it’s rapidly renewable through sustainable forestry (at least in theory).

But what would it actually be like to work or live in a wooden skyscraper? With wooden support walls and wooden floors, would anyone dare put down, say, hardwood floors?

"A tall wood building is just like a steel or concrete building. It has an exterior made of any number of materials that an architect would like: glass, steel, wood, stone, anything," explains Green. "No matter what the structure has to be covered to protect it from weather just as one does with concrete and steel. Inside it can have exposed wood or it can be completely covered in drywall and look like any other building. It’s just a structural system; the look is up to the architect and building owner."

To reach 20 stories, let alone the 30 stories in his Vancouver plan, Green admits there are waves of testing to complete and gaps to fill in the engineering. Also, we’ll need to bioengineer a new breed of less aggressive woodpecker.

[Hat tip: Archinect]

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12 Comments

  • Loong

    I am from Cement Maker and I always asked people why we NEED to make cement.  We all know Cement is one of the most practical, economical, and reliable materials to make tall buildings and IT built CIVILIZATION via infrastructures.  However, if this laminated wood technology could be as safe, strong, reliable, economical and environmental friendly, why not?   After all, after mining all the limestone, burning all the natural fuel-able materials such as coal, petcoke, tyreschips, woodchips  to make cement......is more costly than naturally renewable Woods with the help of limestone that could allow more plantation.  I am all in and support in NEW REVOLUTION of WIN-WIN situation that could preserve our environment better for human kind and all living lives on earth.

  • Ian Larouche

    Brilliant idea , I am working in a start up that can really enables this dream to become a reality - working with woods requires a controled environment during the construction phase an this is really what we do with a new in phase floor by floor construction methodology see www.upbrella.com

    Good luck
         

  • Kirk Boone

    I would not feel nearly as safe in a wooden hi-rise. Just sayin.

    In addition, with all the plastic composites used in such a building, I wonder how "green" it really is. And without them, that building would move and warp considerably.

  • Rupsen_cal

    Its really going to happen!!!.

    I think this kind of design and use of environ-friendly materials for
    skysrapers are a great thought. It also gives us a step forward towards
    green thoughts. We always see smaller houses with woods and its only in
    village areas, but using wood in urban building are less considered. But also need to consider the risk hazards as wood is more prone to risk then its replacement materials.

  • John Arthur

    I'm shocked by the wood buildings (AKA "firetraps") I see nearby. In Playa Vista, block-long apartment buildings all wood construction, on top of a known methane seep (it was marshland), and below that, a gas company underground storage facility. I love wood as a material, but one would need to prove that any conflagration would remain localized.

  • Evan Jacobs

    I believe the future of manufacturing rests in wood/plastic composites. It's absolutely amazing how strong, durable and easy to manufacture they are.

  • JB

    There are a number of examples of Cross-Laminated Timber (google CLT) towers (about 8-15 stories), and other wood composite materials (that would have to be used to get the structural integrity for a building this tall) that have fire ratings as high as 90 minutes (typical code to get people out of the building). If the structure is clad in fire-retardant material that can be further improved. 

  • R

    i would be very interested in seeing this happen, i think this will be somehow a gateway to new green approaches which are much needed.