Everything old is new again, and wood is no exception. While wood has been used in buildings for thousands of years, but it lost favour in the recent past when steel and concrete became fashionable. However, societies are now more aware of the impact of other building materials on the environment, so wood is making a comeback. Believe it or not, wood is now seen as the ‘material of the future’ and it has architects and designers abuzz with the possibilities. But timber as we know it has changed a lot since your grandfather’s time. It’s now engineered, and some say this new miracle natural product is so strong, clean and versatile, that it’s the ‘new concrete’.
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The Benefits of Wood in Architecture
Wood is a durable material. Take the Horyuji Temple in Japan which was built 1,300 years ago and still stands. It’s the oldest wooden building and was designated is world heritage listed by UNESCO. As a material that ticks a lot of environmental boxes (pardon the pun), wood is right up there because as a tree it extracts greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere and churns out oxygen. Timber is a renewable product as well and it reduces the noise and disruption of building sites. Although research on it is sparse, some say buildings made from wood make us feel better. Whether it is old fashioned or ‘engineered, wooden buildings may lower your heart rate, reduce stress; children are believed to be calmer in wooden, classrooms and recovery of patients in hospitals is said to improve – all of which seems intuitively possible. Other benefits include wood’s durability. Engineered wood is a kind of ultra-plywood, called cross-laminated timber (CLT). This is durable and strong, insulates sound, heat and cold.
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Newer Structures Designed With Wood
After exporting game-changers globally (think Ikea and Scandinavian minimalism) the Swedes are now the front runners with a new design pitch based on wood architecture. Sweden is now seen as the epicentre of the wood architecture movement because architects are kept interested in playing with the new technology. For instance, there’s a research project trying to make transparent wood that looks like glass! Architects are mixing experience and innovation and coming up with designs for the future. There are now numerous examples of innovative and interesting wooden structures worldwide, including:
- Frostaliden: This new garden district in Skövde, Sweden is one of the largest wooden projects in the country with 1200 homes and 4000 inhabitants. All homes have the walls and flooring built using CLT (cross-laminated timber) with boards cross-glued making a solid wooden construction.
- Forté, Australia: An apartment building constructed with cross-laminated timber, standing 32.2 m tall. The building’s credentials include the fact that it’s a massive benefit to the environment since it stores about 761 tonnes of CO2.
- Sunnyhills, Tokyo: A Japanese pineapple inspired cake shop called SunnyHills in Tokyo is a perfect example of wood used in innovative architecture, designed by Kengo Kuma, the Japanese architect. The shop is made from 5,000 narrow timber slats forming a cloud-like, latticed mass wrapping around the three-storey building. The shop looks like a giant bamboo basket, and was made using the Jigoku Gumi technique of using glue and nails to fix the slats together.
- Tamedia Office Building, Zurich, Switzerland: This seven-storey building was constructed with wood. An innovative design aspect is the thermal barriers which allows for air to be extracted for heating and cooling.
Types of Wood Used in Architecture
There are many kinds of wood used in construction and architecture, but some are more popular than others for the benefits they bring, including:
- Cedar – lightweight, dense, resistant to decay.
- Pine – inexpensive, attractive.
- Oak – durable, insect-resistant.
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