Michael Green is an architect with a vision of addressing the world’s building needs with skyscrapers made of wood. His studio (Michael Green Architecture) in Vancouver, British Columbia, has done much to implement this vision, having designed the T3 (Timber, Technology, and Transit) building in Minneapolis, at seven stories the tallest wooden building in the US.
“Wood is the material I love most,” Green says in his Ted Talk entitled, “Why We Should Build Wooden Skyscrapers.” Noticing how differently people react when they enter a wooden building as opposed to one of concrete or steel, Green observes, “Wood gives Mother Nature fingerprints in our buildings.”
New technology enables wood to soar to greater heights.
The most significant obstacle to constructing skyscrapers, Green believes, are misconceptions borne of “fear of the new.”
The science magazine Nature dispels some of these notions in a recent article (“The wooden skyscrapers that could help cool the planet“). By weight, wood is stronger than steel and concrete and is better at withstanding earthquakes.
What about the danger of fire? Wood chars at a predictable rate, which is in its favor compared to the alternatives of melting steel or weakening concrete. Andrew Tsay Jacobs, director of the Building Technology Lab at Perkins+Will, observes, “Light construction goes up like kindling but heavy timber chars and burns slowly.”
Wooden skyscrapers are constructed out of ‘mass timber,’ which utilizes glued layers of cross-laminated timber to increase strength. Presently, wood is not cheaper, but Green states, “In the near future it will absolutely be cheaper.” Also, because of the utilization of precision fabrication through digital manufacturing processes, “You can shave months off the timeline for construction.”
For example, the world’s tallest wood building, the 18 story Brock Commons at the University of British Columbia, was completed four months ahead of schedule by using prefabricated components.
Why the world needs the alternative of wood
Michael Green sees wood as the answer to providing for the world’s future construction needs. In his TED Talk, he notes that the need for more construction is dire, with 100 million people homeless and 1 billion people living in slums. At the same time, the building industry accounts for 47 percent of the release of greenhouse gasses, even more than transportation (at 33 percent). And whereas the production of carbon and steel release greenhouse gasses, wood absorbs them.
“The problem I see,” Green says, “is that ultimately, the clash of how we solve the problem of serving those three billion people that need a home and climate change are a head-on collision about to happen or has already happened.”