Instead of concrete jungles could our cities become urban forests of wooden skyscrapers? Swapping cement and steel for timber is the vision of a number of environmentally-minded architects who are planning high-rise buildings across the world.
Architect Michael Green has plans for a 30-story wooden skyscraper in Vancouver, while plans are afoot in Norway and Austria for 17- and 20-story buildings that use wood as the main building material, eschewing steel and concrete. “We think we can go higher than 30 stories,” says Green. “We stopped exploring wood around 100 years ago with the advent of steel and concrete; now we’re looking at a whole new system using mass timber products.”
Green says that the modern wood materials have been around for around 20 years, but until recently they’ve been quite niche or used only in low-rise buildings. What has changed is the way in which architects and builders are thinking about using wood.
“The real change came when we started thinking about climate change. Steel and concrete are great but not environmentally friendly,” Green says.
Cutting down trees to make buildings doesn’t immediately sound eco-friendly either, but if sourced from sustainably managed forests, like those in Europe and North America, it can be more environmentally sensitive.