Photo of Brock Commons Building

Why We Should Start Building Our Skyscrapers Out of Wood

When you think of cities, you immediately start thinking of highrise buildings made of steel, glass, and concrete. Such buildings have become icons of urban development and economic progress but two decades into this century, is it finally time to reconsider our construction methods?

Concrete Building
Concrete buildings are the most common form of urban structures in this century.

Our Love Affair with Concrete

People have been building with concrete since 6500 BC in the Middle East but it wasn’t until the 19th century that it became the standard material for industrial buildings.

French architect Francois Coignet introduced the use of steel rods in the 1850’s and pioneered the use of Portland cement in home construction in England and France. This gaining popularity of concrete boomed in the 20th century and it has kept that status until now in the 21st century.

Steel scaffolding is a widely-used material in construction.

Concrete and Steel Manufacturing’s Effect on Climate Change

Although steel and concrete seem to be much better construction materials in terms of durability, environmental scientists have been calling our attention to the dangers they pose to our environment.

The production of steel and concrete produces an enormous volume of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in terms of the energy it takes to manufacture them and the result of chemical reactions generated as these materials form.

As the global population and living standards increase, the demand for space multiplies as well. If we keep on building with steel and concrete, the carbon emission we produce will amount to 600 million tons a year by 2050. The continued use of steel and concrete in construction will further escalate our carbon emission to dangerous levels and amplify climate change.

With the looming threat of a climate crisis in mind, scientists and architects are ushering a new age — the age of wood and plyscrapers.

Person working on wood
Mjøstårnet, the tallest mass timber building in the world, stands at 280 feet (85.4 meters) tall.

The Return of Wood as a Construction Superstar

Mass timber buildings, also known as plyscrapers, are buildings constructed at least partially with wood. These buildings are built using cross-laminated timber (CLT), a material that has high fire-resistance.

One of the biggest concerns that people have about building with wood is safety as wood is a highly-flammable material. CLTs erase this concern because when this material is exposed to fire, it creates a surface char layer that prevents damage in the interior layers.

Various mass timber buildings have been developed to this day such as the Mjøstårnet in Norway and the Brock Commons Building in Vancouver.

Person working on wood
Wood is still a commonly-used material for small-scale construction projects.

How Wood Can Help Mitigate Climate Change

In contrast to steel and concrete that produces carbon, wood actually captures it. We are all aware that trees absorb carbon dioxide and when they do, they are actually keeping them out of our atmosphere — forever.

The more timber buildings we build, the more carbon we prevent from damaging our atmosphere and if we also reduce steel and concrete manufacturing, this effect will be magnified.

In order for this climate mitigation plan to work sustainably, there are two things that we must do: start planting more trees and recycling wood. Our forests are dying so we can’t just start chopping every tree in sight. Burning wood releases its captured carbon back to the atmosphere so recycling wood is a vital part of this process.

Don’t know how to start recycling? Here are some DIY projects that you might want to try out!

Watch this video on the world’s tallest contemporary wood building in action.

Do you think more buildings like this will pop up in the future?

Featured Photo: Brock Commons Building in Vancouver (Courtesy of Brudder from naturallywood.com)

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