Are wooden skyscrapers the future ?

Are wooden skyscrapers the future ?

Over the past several years, a number of tall wood projects have been completed around the world, demonstrating successful applications of new wood and mass timber technologies.

By 2050 the world’s population will see an additional 2.5 Billion people move to cities. Urban sprawl is not usually an optimal solution, so it’s critical that cities build up rather than out.

For this pace of growth and development to be sustainable, it’s essential that we rethink environmentally taxing traditional steel and concrete structures, and look to wood innovations that offer options for taller structures that are high-performing and renewable to meet the coming demand. 

Competitive option

Wood is providing itself to be a competitive option for tall buildings because it allows for:

  •      Faster and safer on-site construction. Prefabricated sections can be manufactured off site, shipped to the project and then assembled on site, significantly shortening project timelines and improving safety and accuracy.
  •      Tight envelopes. Mass timber components are fabricated with high levels of precision to ensure a tight fit. Together with wood’s natural insulating properties, mass timber construction offers strong thermal performance, which is critical for tall buildings.
  •      Excellent fire resistance. Large wood slabs char on the outside, protecting their inner structure, which is essential to occupant and first-responder safety in wood buildings, particularly those with multiple stories, during a fire event.
  •      Structural and seismic performance. Wood’s strength-to-weight ratio is competitive with steel, but it weighs considerably less, reducing the load on the foundation during seismic events and making for a resilient and safe structure.
  •      Efficient footprints. Wood structural systems have high building-volume-to-surface-area ratios, allowing for spacious interiors even with space constraints that typically require tall, compact designs.

Technology challenges for cross laminated timber

U.S. building codes are evolving to include safe, sustainable and versatile ways of building based on the latest research and findings from around the world.

Those code changes, which continue to evolve, have made tall wood construction significantly easier today and will help its continued adoption.

The following factors are critical to the continued uptake of tall wood construction and will define the movement in the coming years:

  •      Continued full-scale testing of tall wood assemblies for acoustic, durability, fire and seismic performance
  •      Advances in all-wood connectors, as well as the continued development of hybrid connectors comprising wood, steel and concrete
  •      Continued commercialization of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), specifically, as well as other mass timber products across the U.S.
  •      Growth in off-site fabrication facilities nationwide
  •      Closing of the perception gap concerning wood’s use and performance in noncombustible applications

With rising demand for new urban buildings, a ready labour force for mass timber production and increased interest in sustainable and efficient construction, the potential for tall wood buildings is expected to only grow.

Over the past several years, a number of tall wood projects have been completed around the world, demonstrating successful applications of new wood and mass timber technologies.

Track record

There are now numerous success stories for timber skyscrapers.

The seven-story T3 building in Minneapolis (see photo), a mass timber commercial structure, uses NLT panels and glulam beams and columns throughout, requiring no code exemptions. The end result has been widely praised for its beauty and sustainable construction. Economical to build and a draw for highly desirable tenants, including Amazon, it promises to inspire more buildings like it.

A new Tall Wood Survey brings together the experience of a number of the latest projects:

  •      E3, Berlin, Germany—a 7-story mixed-use commercial and residential building
  •      Limnologen, Vaxjo, Sweden—an 8-story residential tenant-owned apartment complex with 4 buildings
  •      Bridport House, Hackney, London, England—an 8-story residential social housing development
  •      3XGrun, Berlin, Germany—a 5-story residential apartment building
  •      Holz8, Bad Aibling, Germany—an 8-store residential apartment with commercial office space
  •      Forte, Melborne, Australia—a 10-story residential boutique apartment building with a 5 Star Green Star residential rating
  •      UBC Earth Sciences Building, Vancouver, Canada—a 5-story Science and Mathematics university building
  •      Lifecycle Tower One, Dornbirn, Austria—an 8-story commercial office tower
  •      Tamedia Headquarters, Zurich, Switzerland—a 6-story commercial office redevelopment project
  •      Cenni Di Cambiamento, Milan, Italy—four, 9-story social housing apartment buildings with commercial and retail services
  •      Wood Innovation and Design Centre, Prince George, Canada—a 6-story academic, laboratory and commercial-use project


Photo credit: MGA + DLR Group, Ema Peter.

Download the report here

Further information

February 22, 2019