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Rise of Mass Timber Buildings Showcase Its Increasing Credibility

Mass wood projects are becoming more prevalent in the design and construction industries, which is a sign that mass timber buildings are about to take centre stage.

New mass timber products are becoming more widespread and encouraging  builders, designers, and engineers to search for the best applications for mass timber initiatives. A few of the mass timber building products available today include:

  • Cross-laminated timber 
  • Nail-laminated timber 
  • Glue-laminated timber
  • Dowel-laminated timber 

As they test the capabilities of these materials, designers are looking to existing mass timber buildings around the world for examples and inspiration. 

Canadian and European researchers and architects began experimenting with the design of mass timber buildings in the 1970s. European timber projects have shown that weight matters with structural systems, and mass timber structures weigh up to one-third as much as their concrete counterparts. This fact has made wood construction a viable prospect in places where building height and weight are limited, such as city utilities, subway tunnels, and underground rail yards. 

Due to their lighter weight, mass timber buildings are more resilient in seismic zones. They carry less inertia, so the possibility of destructive swaying goes down. This approach was recently applied in the Brock Commons tower, an 18-story college residence designed for the University of British Columbia by Canadian firm Acton Ostry Architects. 

The 173-foot-tall tower combines glue-laminated columns, cross-laminated timber floor slabs, dual concrete cores, and steel connectors. The cores help to counteract wind-generated and seismic forces while anchoring the mass timber building in place. It meets structural and fire-safety regulations by utilising a specially designed set of interdependent finishes and building materials. 

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The hybrid structural system of the Brock Commons tower demonstrates that above certain heights (generally 10 to 12 storeys) the lightness of mass timber buildings can make them susceptible to higher deflection from wind loads. Because so many engineers are unfamiliar with mass timber, architect input into construction and design has become crucial. 

Danish architect firm C.F. Møller designed a 23-storey residential tower that features a roof terrace and seven mass timber floors that sit above 15 storeys of traditional concrete construction. It is currently developing over 10 mass timber building projects and participating in an interdisciplinary research team focused on strategies for mass timber towers of 20 storeys or more. 

Mass timber construction has had a paradigm-shifting impact on the European construction process. Mass timber components are factory-made to order, creating an integrated relationship between builder, architect, and engineer. 

There are a few obstacles that prevent mass timber from becoming a mainstream building method. One is local fire codes, many of which prohibit wood structures that exceed five or six storeys.

Another is lack of standardisation of construction methods, materials, and definition. Many different proprietary systems exist and there is often a wide variation in how elements are connected. But as the technologies progresses further, these issues should become less and less of a barrier to widespread adoption. 

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