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Construction Corner: Wood projects beginning to flourish across the globe

Korky Koroluk
Construction Corner: Wood projects beginning to flourish across the globe

Talking about the environmental concerns of building with concrete and steel has become a bit tiresome.

Something else that has become tiresome has become the wait for new buildings using cross-laminated timber (CLT).

When CLT arrived a decade ago, it didn’t explode onto the scene; it just sort of crept into our consciousness.

People generally agreed building with wood was a good idea, but there were concerns about things like fire and the ability of anything wooden to withstand earthquakes.

Before we could build tall with wood, regulatory authorities had to do their due diligence.

That seems to have happened now in many places.

The Scandinavian countries took the early lead in the wood revival and in Canada CLT was used for an 18-storey dormitory at the University of British Columbia. Students moved into that one this fall.

Then, just in the last few weeks, there has been news about building with wood from Australia, France, Austria, the United States and Switzerland.

The Australian Research Council has just launched what’s being called the Future Timber Hub, which will be the country’s leading timber research collaboration, bringing together experts from industry, government and academia. The construction industry is giving strong support to the hub which is likely to yield significant changes to building design and materials manufacturing as well as construction itself.

The hub will be an interdisciplinary partnership that includes such organizations as Arup, the British-based design multinational, and the University of British Columbia.

One of the hub’s first objectives will be to build what will become the world’s tallest timber office building in Brisbane, although the news release didn’t say how tall it will be.

In France, the city of Bordeaux has pledged to build 25,000 m² of wooden spaces per year for the next 15 years, by far the most ambitious program that has yet been announced. One of the projects leading the way is the Hyperion tower, an 18-storey residential building with CLT floors and walls. Construction is expected to take less than a year compared to one-and-a-half years if it were to be built of concrete.

The tower will be a showcase for wood harvested in the surrounding area. Chestnut and oak from the Perigord will make up the building’s facade and beams, and all the panels that secure the facades will be made from pine from a nearby forest.

Elsewhere in France, the Arboretum, a business hub with about 120,000 m² of wooden office space on the outskirts of Paris, will break ground next year. And in another Parisian suburb, architect Stefano Boeri is designing a tower dubbed the Foret Blanche or White Forest. It will house 2,000 trees and plants and is the latest incarnation of Boeri’s successful “vertical forest” buildings in Milan, Italy.

The architecture firm Art & Build completed its latest wooden office building in Paris earlier this year. The firm’s Steven Ware says in France “wood had largely disappeared and was seen as a quaint material. But the energy it takes to put a concrete building up, to run it, and then dismantle it when it becomes obsolete, was too much.

“Using mass timber in office buildings seemed like something we had to do.”

Although many in the French construction industry agree, many also worry about sustainability. France needs to be able to build CLT factories, they say, but it must still have the means to regularly cut and replant trees.

While all this work involving CLT is encouraging, there are people who believe that to have a future “wood has to reinvent itself.”

Martin Riediker, a Swiss scientist, says that wood “is viewed as a classy material, but we need to better exploit its innovation potential as a high-tech component.”

I’ll come back to Riediker and other Swiss researchers when I continue this discussion.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@journalofcommerce.com.

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