The trend of using wood to construct tall buildings has already taken hold in Europe and is quickly spreading to North America. Currently, Norway boasts the world's tallest wood building, a structure that stands 14 stories tall and is built using CLT (cross-laminated timber). The building has a very small carbon footprint, severely reduces construction waste, and is comparable in cost to traditional steel or concrete buildings. You can see in the video below, the building itself looks quite beautiful and the combination of wood and glass facades give it a unique look.
In Canada, British Columbia became the first province to allow five and six story wood structures in 2009 and already has 250 projects built or nearing completion. For example, the Wood Innovation & Design Centre in Prince George B.C. is a six story building and one of the tallest wood buildings in North America.Elsewhere in Canada the trend is growing and Ontario revised their building codes on January 1st 2015 to also allow wood-framed buildings up to six storys high. Similar changes are happening in Quebec and Alberta and both provinces are allowing wood buildings as long as they meet strict fire safety standards.According to Michael Giroux, President of the Canadian Wood Council, “These buildings, once built, are every bit as safe as concrete.” Even with these added safety costs, industry analysts still predict that wood structures will be 10-15% cheaper.
However, not everyone is convinced of the safety of these buildings, and many bring up the inherent fire safety risks associated with wood structures. Richard McGrath, director of codes and standards/engineered structures for the Cement Association of Canada has said that, “From a technical point of view, I certainly feel we are increasing the fire risk in these structures irrespective of the fact we are heavily sprinklering these buildings.” Some firefighter organizations have weighed in, too and Scott Marks, assistant to the general manager for Canadian operations of the International Association of Fire Fighters stated, “We are very concerned from a health and safety perspective for firefighters and tenants and residents of these buildings.”
South of the border, one state in particular has also tried to make headway in the wood building industry. Oregon is preparing to become the first state to manufacture CLT technology that will be used to build tall wood buildings. However, there are still plenty of obstacles, not including the fire safety concerns brought up by many. Currently, American building codes don't allow wood construction over seven stories, though that could change soon. Additionally, architects and engineers are often not well trained on how to design buildings using wood panels. Lastly, the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program does little to encourage use of wood.
What do you think? Are wood buildings just as safe as concrete or steel buildings? They have already proven to be cheaper and better for the environment, so could we soon see wood skyscrapers like the one in Norway? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.
For more information on the increased popularity of wood building in North America, click here.