Constructing tall with timber "doesn’t make sense" say consultants

As a part of our Timber Revolution collection, Dezeen requested mass-timber consultants in regards to the ongoing race to construct ever-taller wood buildings.

“For many buildings, tall timber doesn’t make sense,” mentioned Arup fellow Andrew Lawrence. “Timber’s pure house is low-rise building,” he informed Dezeen.

“The fact that timber is finest suited technically to smaller buildings, and that that is the place it will possibly have essentially the most affect on decreasing embodied carbon, has been misplaced.”

Webb Yates senior structural engineer Florence Browning agreed, explaining that “timber alone has its limitations” with regards to developing high-rise buildings.

“If we wish to win the race in opposition to local weather change, the development trade goes to must get snug with utilizing extra mass timber in on a regular basis buildings,” mentioned Browning.

“Nonetheless, timber alone does have its limitations and there are explanation why various, extra man-made supplies have been developed.”

Tall timber pattern “stems from a misunderstanding”

Mass timber is an umbrella time period for engineered-wood merchandise, which generally include layers of wooden certain collectively to create robust structural elements.

It’s growing in recognition within the building trade because of wooden’s capacity to sequester carbon, which implies timber has a considerably decrease embodied carbon than concrete and metal.

A world race to construct taller timber is now underway, with the world’s 5 tallest timber excessive rises all accomplished in simply the previous 4 years, together with the 87-metre Ascent within the US.

Different engineered wooden towers within the works are the Atlassian by SHoP Architects and BVN, and Rocket&Tigerli by Schmidt Hammer Lassen, each of that are anticipated to succeed in record-breaking heights.

Nonetheless, in accordance with Arup fellow Lawrence, the proliferation of tall timber towers is partly the results of widespread misconceptions in regards to the materials’s properties.

A world race to construct taller timber is now underway. High and above photos are of W350 Plan, courtesy of Sumitomo Forestry and Nikken Sekkei

“We imagine that the push for widespread use of timber in high-rise structure stems from a misunderstanding of the actual benefits of the fabric,” mentioned Lawrence.

“Wooden has many benefits, however we should additionally do not forget that it’s flamable and brittle,” he defined. “It’s also a lot lighter and weaker than different building supplies,” he defined, referring to concrete and metal.

Browning defined that this decrease power makes it much less appropriate to be used in tall buildings, because it requires the design of very massive structural elements.

“Above sure heights and spans, the dimensions of [timber] components are so massive it turns into uneconomical,” she mentioned. “This additionally limits the quantity of useable house.”

Mass timber suited to “smaller and extra intricate buildings”

Moreover, structural timber loses a few of its low-carbon advantages when used for taller buildings, in accordance with Lawrence.

In high-rise buildings significantly, wooden requires further remedy to assist cut back its combustibility and enhance its acoustics, however this will add to its carbon footprint.

“It’s the smaller buildings, and particularly these the place the wooden might be left totally uncovered because of the commonly decrease fireplace and acoustic necessities, the place it will possibly have essentially the most affect in decreasing carbon in contrast with different supplies,” mentioned Lawrence.

Thornton Tomasetti senior affiliate Kristina Rogers echoed that timber is best-suited for buildings the place the timber might be left untreated and on show.

“I get actually excited a couple of design the place we expect actually creatively about what that timber goes to seem like, and the way it interacts with the perform of the constructing,” she informed Dezeen.

“On smaller and extra intricate buildings, we get to essentially take into consideration how the timber is well known, and the structural properties of the fabric and methods to show them within the constructing.”

Glass-clad mass-timber tower in Milwaukee
Ascent is the world’s tallest timber tower. Picture is courtesy of Korb + Associates Architects

Atelier Ten affiliate Amy Leedham added that the low-embodied carbon of mass timber is typically cancelled out in tall buildings by the necessity for concrete and metal to forestall extreme swaying.

“The problem that we have seen in mass-timber excessive rise [design] is that it is a stability between utilizing mass timber and with the ability to keep away from having so as to add an excessive amount of further materials,” she mentioned.

“There’s nonetheless a good quantity of concrete or metal [needed] to assist brace typical mass-timber high-rises,” Leedham continued.

British architect Andrew Waugh raised an identical level in an interview for the Timber Revolution.

“It is bullshit, as a result of if you are going to construct a tall constructing in timber, you continue to must fill it stuffed with concrete to verify it does not wave round,” he informed Dezeen.

He prompt the trade ought to begin measuring the success of timber buildings in numerous methods, reminiscent of materials effectivity or their affect on the wellbeing of occupants.

“We want pioneers to push the bounds”

Regardless of the drawbacks, consultants imagine the race to construct taller with timber will proceed because of the enchantment of competitors and breaking information.

“I agree that lower-rise timber is the suitable method ahead, however I assume we’ll hold seeing the occasional timber towers competing for structure or engineering awards,” Arup affiliate director Hein informed Dezeen.

Pioneering timber architect Hermann Kaufmann agreed, explaining that the tall timber pattern is not going to disappear as a result of “everybody desires to be the one to interrupt the file”.

“The world file factor is just a little infantile,” he mentioned. “Nevertheless it’s like all issues in life, everybody desires to be the one to interrupt the file.”

Nonetheless, Kaufmann concedes the tall timber race can drive innovation and assist to provide mass-timber merchandise “a brand new worth”.

“I evaluate constructing tall timber towers to Formulation 1 driving,” defined Kaufmann. “It’s considerably pointless however in the end it’s a driver of innovation.”

He argues that testing the structural limits of wooden on this method has led to improvements that he as soon as thought wouldn’t be attainable, in flip making it simpler to make use of wooden in lower-rise buildings.

“These tall buildings introduced mass timber to new dimensions that I didn’t suppose have been attainable 15 years in the past,” he defined.

“If you happen to show which you can construct a 20-storey constructing from wooden, there is not any extra cause to debate about 4 or five-storey buildings and their fireplace security.”

Atelier Ten’s Leedham agreed that tall timber buildings are “not at all times going to make sense” however that they will help the trade to make use of timber extra effectively.

“We want the entire improvements, and so we’d like pioneers to push the bounds,” she continued. “We want these examples to push the trade in that route.”

This is among the goals of Japanese structure studio Nikken Sekkei, which is at present creating a conceptual proposal for the world’s first timber supertall skyscraper for a web site in Tokyo named the W350 Plan.

“It’s not meant for fast building at this cut-off date, however by setting main objectives, it goals to create a roadmap for technological growth and uncover points that should be solved [in mass timber],” venture architect Hajime Aoyagi informed Dezeen in an interview.

“Timber is just not suited to all sorts of building”

Nonetheless, for different engineers together with Magne Aanstad, innovation in timber should not simply imply specializing in constructing taller. As an alternative, he argues that architects and engineers must be exploring methods to utilise wooden most successfully in hybrid, or composite, buildings.

“I believe some pushing of the boundaries is wholesome as a result of it provides some progress to the trade and makes it simpler to go a bit decrease on the subsequent venture,” mentioned Aanstad, a staff chief on the engineering agency Sweco.

“However I additionally imagine that you need to use the proper materials for the proper function and never use timber when it shouldn’t have been used,” he continued, alluding to its use in high-rise buildings. “I do not suppose you ought to be afraid to mix supplies.”

“If we wish to tackle our affect on local weather change, we’d like a various pool of sources in order that now we have a number of low-carbon choices to select from and apply – timber is just not suited to all sorts of building,” echoed Browning.

“As engineers and designers, we have to interrogate the design and decide the very best materials or mixture of supplies for the job.”

Render of The Regenerative High-Rise
The Regenerative Excessive-Rise is an idea for a hybrid timber tower. Visible is by Forbes Massie

Tomas Stokke from Haptic Architects can also be an advocate of utilizing timber in hybrid codecs.

“I am not in any method against pure-timber buildings, however I simply suppose we have to work with what’s finest for the given scenario,” he informed Dezeen.

“I believe for timber high-rises, you’re going to get extra outcome and worth and extra alternatives should you take a barely extra pragmatic strategy to supplies,” he mentioned. “Let’s use the proper supplies the place they’re most helpful.”

This was his studio’s strategy when creating its idea for The Regenerative Excessive-Rise – an idea for a modular tower designed with the engineering agency Ramboll that Stokke hopes can remodel difficult websites in cities worldwide.

The design centres round a timber-composite superstructure, with CLT floorplates and steel-composite glulam and bolstered concrete used for the columns and cores.

“Now we have to grasp what occurs on the finish of lifetime of timber”

With the tall timber pattern anticipated to proceed, Rogers mentioned the trade should prioritise enhancing its understanding of the entire lifecycle of those tall wood buildings and design for dismantling.

“One thing that is thrilling in regards to the future is deconstruction and reuse of timber components,” she defined. “Now we have to grasp what occurs on the finish of the lifetime of timber.”

On the finish of a constructing’s helpful life, there’s a threat of its timber elements being misplaced to landfill, which means the carbon it shops can be launched again into the ambiance.

She mentioned this is a vital consideration with regards to high-rises as their timber elements are so massive and are, subsequently, greater shops of carbon.

“One thing I believe that is fascinating about tall wooden buildings is methods to use these bigger components of one thing that may be reused sooner or later,” Rogers mentioned.

“If we may demount issues and use them once more, sooner or later, I believe that is someplace the place the trade has to go. Nevertheless it’s not fairly there but.”

Timber Revolution logo
Illustration by Yo Hosoyamada

Timber Revolution
This text is a part of Dezeen’s Timber Revolution collection, which explores the potential of mass timber and asks whether or not going again to wooden as our major building materials can lead the world to a extra sustainable future.