Wooden skyscrapers growing in place of concrete ones

Cities around the world are building skyscrapers out of wood amid growing concerns about concrete’s environmental footprint.

According to an article by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, cities from Amsterdam to Tokyo are in a race to construct tall buildings out of wood. Amsterdam, for example, boasts the world’s tallest wooden residential tower at 73 metres high. Vancouver is now planning a 40-storey building, which it says will be the world’s tallest, a title that Sumitomo Forestry’s 350-metre wooden skyscraper in Tokyo also seeks to claim.

There are several reasons for the rising popularity of wood. Rapid advances in engineered wood and relaxed building codes have made it a material worth reconsidering. But the main reasons are environmental.

“The interest is definitely being driven by environmental concerns – the amount of damage we’re doing with concrete is unbelievable,” John Hardy, a sustainability expert in Bali, Indonesia, is quoted in the article.

According to the article, the manufacture of steel, concrete and brick represents some 16 per cent of global fossil-fuel consumption, a figure that rises up to 30 per cent when you take into account transport and assembly of the materials. Concrete has also caused considerably environmental damage due to rampant sand mining, worsened urban flooding and made cities hotter.

Bamboo and wood, on the other hand, require less fossil fuels to transport and assemble. They are also carbon sequestering materials, which helps curb emissions, Andy Buchanan, a professor of timber design at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, explains in the article.

To help make this trend more mainstream, Buchanan is in favour of government policies that promote the use of wood in public materials, as is the case in Japan, especially if they are supported through a carbon encouragement grant.

Image credit: Carey Ciuro via Flickr

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