3 Woodscrapers

Tall wood buildings are now possible due to the emergence of a new building material: cross-laminated timber (CLT) – thin layers of wood and glue fused together to create a material much stronger than regular wood or plywood. Photo Credit: MGA | Michael Green Architecture

Canadian architect Michael Green has proposed a 30-story “woodscraper” in Vancouver, British Colombia. Photo Credit: MGA | Michael Green Architecture

The project would make use of some of the 44 million acres of dead pine trees nearby, which were killed off by a beetle infestation. Photo Credit: MGA | Michael Green Architecture

Tall wood buildings will require changes to local building codes, which currently cap the height of wooden buildings based on previous wood building technologies. Photo Credit: MGA | Michael Green Architecture

Woodscrapers

The first skyscrapers rose on masonry support walls. Then came steel frames and, soon after, glass facades. So what’s the next big thing in tall buildings? Titanium? Skyhooks? How about: Wood!

Tall wooden buildings – called “woodscrapers” or “plyscrapers,” depending on your preference – have been rising in Europe and Canada, and could soon come to U.S. skylines.

Unlike the wooden building construction of old, in which long beams were cut from tall trees, these buildings rely on super-strong, engineered beams and panels called cross-laminated timber (CLT) – a kind of plywood on steroids. To make CLT, thin cross-sections of wood are layered with glue in a special cross-configuration that gives it dramatically increased strength, rigidity, and load-bearing capability.

In Vancouver, British Colombia, architect Michael Green proposed a 30-story wooden high-rise tower using this new wood technology. Should he get the go-ahead, the project won’t be short of building materials. Massive expanses of pine forest nearby have died off due to a beetle infestation, leaving two billion trees in its wake. This unexpected problem of “too much wood” has been answered by a governmental edict requiring builders to consider wood for new construction.

Even in areas where there is not an unexpected wood glut, experts say that, properly managed, wood can be a sustainable and renewable building material.