The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood

By: David Roberts, Vox


The many, many benefits of using wood in place of concrete and steel

Architects, builders, and sustainability advocates are all abuzz over a new building material they say could substantially reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the building sector, slash the waste, pollution, and costs associated with construction, and create a more physically, psychologically, and aesthetically healthy built environment.

The material is known as, uh, wood.

Trees have been used to build structures since prehistory, but especially after disasters like the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, wood came to be seen as unsafe and unstable relative to the two materials that have since become staples of the construction industry worldwide: concrete and steel.

However, a new way of using wood has put the material back in the spotlight. The hype is focused on structural timber or, as it’s more popularly known, “mass timber” (short for “massive timber”). In a nutshell, it involves sticking pieces of soft wood — generally conifers like pine, spruce, or fir, but also sometimes deciduous species such as birch, ash, and beech — together to form larger pieces.

Yes, the hottest thing in architecture this century amounts to “wood, but like Legos.”

Mass timber is a generic term that encompasses products of various sizes and functions, like glue-laminated (glulam) beams, laminated veneer lumber (LVL), nail-laminated timber (NLT), and dowel-laminated timber (DLT). But the most common and most familiar form of mass timber, the one that has opened up the most new architectural possibilities, is cross-laminated timber (CLT).

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