An architectural firm known for steel-and-concrete skyscrapers now has a method for building them out of wood instead, reports Henry Fountain in The New York Times (9/24/13). Skidmore, Owings & Merrill "has developed a structural system that uses so-called mass timber – columns and thick slabs that are laminated from smaller pieces of wood. In a report this year, the firm showed how the system could be used to build a 42-story residential tower that would have a lower carbon footprint than a conventional structure."
"This is the first new way to build in a hundred years," says Michael Green, an architect. Tall wooden buildings exist, but are a rarity; to date, the tallest wooden structure – "an apartment building completed this year in Melbourne, Australia" — is just 10 stories. Building codes typically limit wood construction to a maximum of four stories. Proponents say that "wooden high-rises could help solve the growing worldwide problem of providing adequate housing to the billions of people who are, or will be, living in cities – while also addressing climate change."
Using wood "can help offset the carbon emissions from other parts of the construction process." Flammability is a concern, although “advocates for wooden buildings say mass timber does not ignite easily and forms a layer of char that slows burning." Worries about "the potential impact on forests," they argue, are unfounded "as long as forests were managed." British architect Andrew Waugh, who built a nine-story wooden apartment building in London sees exciting developments ahead. "It feels like the birth of flight – it’s one of those kinds of moments in engineering," he says.