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Can a Tall Building Be Built Out of Wood Thanks to Mass Timber?

Thomas Robinson, founder of Lever Architecture, is widely hailed as a pioneer in designing tall buildings made of wood instead of concrete.

The all-wood building that houses Robinson’s office is only four storeys, but it’s a forerunner to Framework, a 12-storey tower scheduled for construction in the Pearl District in Portland. Once completed, it will be America’s tallest human-occupied structure made entirely from wood. 

Although wood has been used in buildings for millennia, it is currently experiencing an architectural renaissance. Tall wood buildings have been constructed in the UK, Finland, and Sweden, and a 24-storey structure is currently being built in Vienna. A 35-storey Paris tower has even been proposed by a Canadian firm with a strong background in wooden structures. 

Although U.S, building codes generally prohibit wooden buildings more than 85 feet in height, the federal government has initiated research into constructing with wood in an attempt to energise the country’s timber industry. 

These new skyscrapers are not made from traditional wood planks, however. Instead, they use mass timber, an innovative wood product. Framework’s structure will be made from glue-laminated timber while the walls and floors were be cross-laminated timber panels. 

Robinson and his team subjected both timber types to strict fire testing. After being placed in a furnace and weighed down for two hours, a joined beam, column, and cross-laminated timber panel were charred but structurally intact, Mass timber does not catch fire easily, and the charred outer layer that appears when the substance is burned actually insulates the wood. 


Structural Defects Insurance

Fears have also been expressed about tall wooden buildings collapsing in an earthquake. Robinson and his team have designed Framework’s cross-laminated timber panels to move back and forth with seismic waves. 

Mass timber also offers a large environmental advantage. By some estimates, buildings account for one-third of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Although a lot of a structure’s carbon footprint results from the energy it uses over its lifetime, some of it also derives from its construction. 

Steel and concrete buildings account for approximately 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Trees, on the other hand, absorb and retain carbon until they are burned or decompose. One study suggested that substituting wood for other materials used to construct bridges and buildings could prevent up to 31% of global carbon emissions. 

This form of building has local benefits as well. Construction is able to proceed more quickly, as many components are premade. Albina Yard, which houses Lever Architecture, was built in five weeks. It also creates local jobs: the majority of Framework’s mass timber will be collected locally. 

The U.S. Northwest has a long history of using wood in its buildings, and Robinson sees Framework as a continuation of this tradition. He also sees a collection between the wood renaissance and the farm-to-table trend. He pointed out that decades ago, few people cared how their food was produced. Now they want to know, and that same interest is appearing in architecture. wood

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