A new kind of building will soon rise in the United States: the wooden tower. Extensive testing by the US Department of Agriculture and the timber industry will soon make timber viable for high-rise tower construction.
Although tall wood buildings in countries like Norway and Austria have made headlines around the world, mass timber, as this type of construction is known, has yet to make significant inroads here. Wood dominates low-rise residential construction in the US, but is absent in buildings more than five stories tall.
Many designers, timber industry representatives, and government officials are pushing for that to change. Their motivations vary. Mass timber offers incredible aesthetic benefits and could create new jobs in rural areas. It also holds tremendous potential to mitigate climate change. Carbon-heavy steel and concrete production accounts for almost 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Mass timber products require no fossil fuels to produce — trees grow with solar energy alone — and can be replenished through sustainable logging and tree farms. As an added bonus, it can sequester carbon held in trees, preventing it from seeping into the atmosphere when they decay.
In 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture and timber industry partners, enthusiastic about the combination of new jobs and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, launched the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition. The contest offered $3 million to teams of designers and developers who pledged to build a mass timber tower at least 80 feet high.
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