Wooden skyscrapers: efficient, fire-safe, environmentally friendly(ier)


56 Responses to “Wooden skyscrapers: efficient, fire-safe, environmentally friendly(ier)”

  1. Until termites find out about it… 

  2. miasm says:

    I imagine there would have to be some kind of design feature which deals with the ‘settling sounds’ of warm wooden buildings at night.

  3. bcsizemo says:

    So what about bow and sag as the building ages…?   Last I checked concrete and steel don’t deform with time or humidity (with in reason).

    • Daniel Smith says:

       Wood laminates actually perform very well. The resin impregnation makes them moisture and humidity resistant, and compressed laminates are extremely strong for their weight, much stronger than regular old wood.

      That being said, I seriously doubt wood skyscrapers are the wave of the future.

  4. John Aguirre says:

    Are we ignoring the fact that a small forest of trees would have to be felled to build this thing?

    • czak ivanovic says:


      We would like to sell that small forest of trees worth of wood to you. It’s being built in Vancouver for a reason…

      • furono says:

        Couldn’t that “small forest” be used for something better than an all wood building?  Isn’t a better reason like providing oxygen?  With the rain forest about to disappear do you think this is a great use of resources?

        • Vincent says:

          We have enough oxygen, that’s not really a selling point, though we would like to absorb more carbon-dioxide, so chopping down a forest and growing a new one is a rather good idea.

          And arguing against chopping down one particular forest because the rain-forest is disappearing is like arguing against anyone eating anything until we have feed all the starving poor. It’s not really constructive moving towards the goal.

          • Antinous / Moderator says:

            And arguing against chopping down one particular forest because the rain-forest is disappearing is like arguing against anyone eating anything until we have feed all the starving poor.

            Shockingly, different forests contain different and unique species.

        • howaboutthisdangit says:

          Ideally, they would harvest mature trees which are not pulling much CO2 out of the air, and plant new trees which will capture more CO2 as they grow.

        • czak ivanovic says:

           They’ll use wood from the interior of BC, the coastal rainforesty stuff is too valuable to chew up into strands.

    • JProffitt71 says:

      I think that is why the “(ier)” is appended to the friendly in the title. Based on how much energy it takes to make the materials for a traditional skyscraper, perhaps a small forest is in fact a smaller price. Goes to show just how much it takes to make our buildings.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Do you know how much wood is involved in building non-wooden buildings?  Lots.

    • Why not use bamboo?  Grows fast, eminently replaceable.

      Or engineered cellulose products?  

    • Itsumishi says:

      No, we’re not ignoring that fact. It’s addressed in the linked article:

      Cutting down trees to make buildings doesn’t immediately sound eco-friendly either, but if sourced from sustainably managed forests (like those in Europe and North America), it can be more environmentally sensitive.

  5. Clevername says:

    How many stories down will the sound of upstairs neighbors walking in heavy shoes carry? From the artist’s conception in the story, it looks like those timbers are pretty exposed so I hope for the sake of the occupants that the weather resistance testing was very good.

  6. wrwetzel says:

    Regarding fire safety… I remember visiting a barn that had serious damage from a fire. It was built mostly of wood but had one steel I-beam, probably to support ceiling joists. After the fire the I-beam was draped like a ribbon over charred wooden beams. The heat of the fire softened the I-beam enough that it could bend under its own weight while the wooden beams retained some strength, despite the charring. The sight of that made such an impression on me that I can recall it now, 46 years later.

  7. Kevin says:

    This would burn like a Roman Candle thanks to the gigantic draft potential of 100 stories. This is nothing but a joke, or perhaps a high school level design project.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Your credentials?

      • Kevin says:

         My credentials? I’ve seen a fire before. Stacking wood with lots of air gaps and tons of  flammable
        crap that the people living in it are going to bring spells disaster plain and simple. This is NOTHING but a publicity stunt. It’s not real.

        • Itsumishi says:

          Despite being made of wood any worries about towering infernos should be banished, says Green, as large timber performs well in fires with a layer of char insulating the structural wood beneath.

          “It may sound counter-intuitive, but performing well in a fire is something inherent in large piece of wood, that’s why in forest fires the trees that survive are the largest ones,” he say

          And for more information

  8. MrEricSir says:

    Something tells me this wouldn’t last more than a second if a plane crashed into it.

  9. Angels? Lodes?

    Certainly worth investigating more. Wood is surprising sometimes. At the 1987 Kings Cross Tube fire, the wooden escalator steps did not burn as much as you’d expect, despite the blazing greasy fluff underneath them.

  10. Ladyfingers says:

    “Laminated strand composite” is to wood what fibreglass is to glass, really. All timber-related weaknesses most go out the window when you’re discussing timber composite materials. I do wonder with the impact/origin of the glue is.

  11. hungryjoe says:

    His forest fire analogy is flawed.  While the biggest trees in the forest remain standing, they are substantially diminished by the fire.  They remain standing because the only load they carry are their own, and they’re not 1000′ tall.  Any of his engineered wood products may still exist after a fire, but they will be weakened.  Combined with the load and weather effects of a 100 story skyscraper, and you may get a nasty failure.

    I also wonder what effect the tremendous heat of a fire would have on the resins in the wood.

    All that said, this is a neat idea.  For the environmental naysayers, consider how much waste is involved in stick-built single family homes or apartments.   Not just in the structure, but in the wasteful use of the landscape (and landscaping).

    • SKR says:

      Steel and concrete can be weakened byfire as well. The key is whether the structure fails or not and heavy timber performs admirably in that respect.

  12. SKR says:

    I’m more concerned about the compressive strength being able to support the dead load of 100 stories than fire.

    • Daniel Saraga says:

      That was my thought exactly. Wouldn’t it collapse under its own weight, and what about the weight of the occupants’ possessions as well?

  13. frozenintime says:

    Build them underground instead of going upwards.

  14. James B says:

    I build some furniture, and do some welding, and studied calc based statics/dynamics, and all that, so I’m no expert, but somewhat informed on material properties.  Here are some things that concern me:

    - What happens to adhesives in the laminate when they are exposed to high (fire) temperature?  The burn through time might be good on the laminated pieces, but as the piece heats up does the adhesive fail?

    - What happens to the wood if it gets wet, say a leaky pipe behind the wall?  Wouldn’t the lignin start to break down and cause structural failures under load?

    - It gets cold in Canada.  I’m guessing the moisture content of the wood used in the laminations is in the single digit percentages.  But frozen wood is a different beast than  climate controlled.  What if the power goes off in high winds and low temps?

    Hopefully the ASTM already thought of all this, and test for it to help spec the design criteria.  But I’ll bet they just do ‘damp condition’ testsing, and don’t let water run down one side of a timber for years on end, then test under thousands of tons of load.

  15. Thought experiments:  how tall could one build a structure out of living trees/plants? Assuming that the vegetation is the core support structure.

    What advantages would be gained by using living materials vs. engineered composites of those materials?

    • mjfgates says:

       Living trees top out at about 430 feet– it’s the physics of how they pump water up out of the roots. The last fifty feet are kind of … on the edge, if you know what I mean. So, don’t count on your treehouse being more than about 350 feet tall.

      • clasqm says:

        Also, how may centuries/milennia are you prepared to wait for your living skyscraper to grow? If you gengineer them to grow faster the looser ring structure means less strength.

  16. emo hex says:

    Can wooden cars not be next.

  17. starfish and coffee says:

    Having grown up in a wooden house I have learned to love the loud cracking noises wood beams make as they expand or contract when the temperature changes during the day. But it freaks the fuck out of visitors.
    I wonder how these wood skyscrapers would sound?

    Btw, the noise comes from the joints I think, not the beams as such.

  18. Ryan Matheuszik says:

    I note that the architect does not address how this proposed structure would perform in an earthquake. We live in an earthquake zone here in Vancouver.

  19. skeptacally says:

    we could bring down the price a tad if we got sweden to design them. AND we could assemble them using nothing but allen keys.

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