'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.

2 minute read

January 8, 2018, 11:00 AM PST

By Katharine Jose

Cross-Laminated Timber

U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

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.

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

View of downtown Los Angeles at golden hour from top of grassy hill with wooden bench in Vista Hermosa Natural Park

Downtown Los Angeles Park Wins National Award

Vista Hermosa Natural Park, designed by the landscape architecture firm Studio-MLA, has won the ASLA 2023 Landmark Award. Completed in 2008, Vista Hermosa was the first public park built in downtown L.A. in over 100 years.

September 11, 2023 - ASLA The Dirt

View of small-town street with brick buildings and cars parked in diagonal parking with string lights going across street in Cleveland County, Oklahoma.

Norman, Oklahoma Eliminates Parking Mandates

The city made a subtle, one-word change that frees up developers to build parking based on actual need and eliminates costly unnecessary parking.

September 14, 2023 - Next City

Few passengers waiting in subway station with multiple platforms and "North Station" signs in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Transit Riders Report Safety Concerns

Almost three-quarters of current and former riders report feeling unsafe while using MBTA services.

September 18, 2023 - Hoodline

Mosaic mural at Little Tokyo/Arts District transit station in downtown Los Angeles.

Prioritizing Equity in Federal Transit Funding

TransitCenter recommends several transit capital projects deserving of federal transportation dollars.

September 20 - TransitCenter

Close-up of top of California state capitol dome with U.S. and California flags flying and blue sky in background.

California Housing Bills Streamline Affordable Housing

A series of current and proposed bills are paving the way for more affordable housing production in the state, where environmental laws are often deployed to delay or block new development.

September 20 - CALmatters

Main Street in Bentonville, Arkansas with three-story brick buildings, people sitting at tables on sidewalk, and sign on building for "The Walmart Museum."

Growing Pains in Northwest Arkansas

Like other small communities suddenly made popular during the Covid-19 pandemic, the region is struggling to maange its explosive growth.

September 20 - Axios

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.