'Tall Timber' May Be the Future of Building

Mass timber is a major structural element of an increasing number of skyscrapers, according to a CTBUH survey; now, the fire codes just have to follow.
January 8, 2018, 11am PST | Katharine Jose
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U.S. Department of Agriculture

At The Architect’s Newspaper, Matthew Messing interviews Daniel Safarik, editor of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitats (CTBUH) about its recently released global audit of “tall timber” buildings.

Tall timber refers to the use of mass timber to construct buildings that are more than seven stories; the audit follows “a spike in announcements of timber tall buildings being proposed and constructed about four years ago [2013].”

Mass timber is an “umbrella term” for several new materials (like cross-laminated timber) that make it possible to use wood to construct skyscrapers.

For reasons ranging from its potential for carbon sequestration to the possibility of local production, timber has been described as “a new frontier in low-carbon building.”

The main obstacle facing the use of tall timber is fire, both in the sense of codes it may not meet and in the sense of fears it may inspire.

The fears, Safarik says, don’t take into account the fact that these materials are produced with fire prevention in mind.

“The key to mass timber’s viability as a struc­tural material for tall buildings lies in its name. Massive wood walls and structural beams and columns comprised of engineered pan­els have demonstrated fire performance equal to concrete and, in some cases, su­perior to steel.”

And while the “foremost obstacle” to tall timber construction is local fire codes, Safarik is confident that “[a]s more jurisdictions come to appreciate the aesthetic, economic, and environmental advantages of tall timber, fire codes are expected to change.”

The CTBUH audit lists nearly 50 tall timber designs, ranging in height from seven to 35 stories, and in geography from Lagos to Vienna to Minneapolis.

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Published on Friday, January 5, 2018 in The Architect's Newspaper
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