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Industry & Trends

How Big Is Too Big for Mass-Timber Buildings?

Even as builders around the world continue to put up larger and larger structures using mass-timber construction, a new report says there are limits to how big you can make a wooden building.

Construction of residential, office and commercial buildings using timber construction have boomed the past few years as builders look to the material as a solution for climate change issues.

But a new report from the online design website Dezeen, part of its Timber Revolution series, suggests wood is not the answer for all new construction. Experts and others interviewed for the series say mass-timber construction has its place in buildings but it is not in larger structures.

“For most buildings, tall timber does not make sense,” Dezeen quotes Arup fellow Andrew Lawrence. “Timber’s natural home is low-rise construction. The reality that timber is best suited technically to smaller buildings, and that this is where it can have the most impact on reducing embodied carbon, has been lost.”

Florence Browning, a Webb Yates senior structural engineer agreed, explaining that “timber alone has its limitations” for larger scale buildings. “If we want to win the race against climate change, the construction industry is going to have to get comfortable with using more mass timber in everyday buildings,” Browning told Dezeen.

“However, timber alone does have its limitations and there are reasons why alternative, more man-made materials were developed.”

Mass timber, which Dezeen defines as “an umbrella term for engineered-wood products, which typically consist of layers of wood bound together to create strong structural components” is increasing in popularity in construction due to wood’s lower carbon emissions than concrete and steel.

Dezeen says just over the past four years, the five tallest buildings made of timber have all been built, led by the 25-story Ascent tower in Milwaukee.

Smaller buildings represent the future of mass timber construction, the website concluded. “On smaller and more intricate buildings, we get to really think about how the timber is celebrated,” Thornton Tomasetti senior associate Kristina Rogers told Dezeen.

“I get really excited about a design where we think really creatively about what that timber is going to look like, and how it interacts with the function of the building.”

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