Wood Framed High-Rises Making Appearances Across the Globe


Architects and designers now have the advanced technology to create visually stunning, energy efficient and sustainable projects. Virtual reality can allow the exploration of yet to be constructed spaces and buildings. Every inch of wire, piping and other construction material can be accounted for with changes noted digitally in records that stay with the building forever. 

With all of this powerful technology available, why then are more architects turning to an old favorite when it comes to construction material for modern high-rises across the planet? Why is wood and wood framed building becoming a trendy choice in high-rise construction?

Why Wood Fell Out of Favor

Wood Framed High-Rises Making Appearances Across the Globe

Home Insurance Building by William Le Baron Jenney

Understanding why wood is gaining popularity once again begins by taking a look back at why it fell out of favor as a construction material in tall buildings. Many place the blame on the 1871 Chicago fire that destroyed over three square miles of structures in the Windy City. The blaze was credited with positive changes to building codes throughout the world. In fact, the first skyscraper, the 10-story Home Insurance Building was built in Chicago just over a decade later. A very small building by today's sky-scraper standards, the building featured a steel frame and a brick exterior which became known at the time as the "Chicago Skeleton". It was constructed in the Chicago School architectural style.


Changes in Wood for Construction

Wood Framed High-Rises Making Appearances Across the Globe

While wood has been used as a construction material since ancient times, wood has actually changed significantly over the past century. Rather than the standard 2x4 plank construction, today's wooden high-rises are using more hi-tech products referred to as mass timber. These include glue-laminated timber which bonds pieces of lumber together creating thick beams and columns. Walls and floor are constructed of cross-laminated-timber (CLT) where layers of wood are bonded in alternating directions. This provides added strength. Among other benefits, these modern processes prevent the wood from igniting too easily. 

Benefits of Wood Construction

Wood Framed High-Rises Making Appearances Across the Globe

Significant resistance to fire aside, other benefits of modern wood construction include flexibility that is not found in concrete construction. This makes it an excellent material for use in earthquake-prone areas. Wood materials are efficient as an insulator of sound and take less energy to produce than either concrete or steel. Beyond saving energy in production, wood is also a renewable resource. Each tree used in construction can be replanted, with the new trees removing the greenhouse gas CO2 from the air. Wood is the definition of a "green", sustainable construction material, as long as trees are replanted as they are used.

Samples of Projects Around the Globe

There are many real-life examples of wooden high rise projects across the globe. Wood buildings have been constructed or are being planned in cities like Portland, Minneapolis and in countries like Finland, Sweden, Canada and Japan. 

Wood Framed High-Rises Making Appearances Across the Globe

Lever Architecture Office in Portland, Oregon

Lever Architecture in Portland, Oregon houses their current offices in a four-story wooden structure that reminds visitors of the holidays with a light pine smell. That is due to construction using fragrant Douglas fir. The company is designing an additional, 12-story, mixed-use wooden structure building that is slated for completion in 2019.

An 18-story project in Norway bills itself as the "World's Tallest House", but those claims may be exaggerated. The principles behind the project, however, are not. The construction project will only use wood from Norwegian forests where the country makes a commitment to replace forested trees. The current leader is a Vienna, Austria high-rise that soars 24 stories and contains offices, apartments and even a spa. It should be noted that Austria is the world's largest producer of cross-laminated timber.

The Vienna project will pale in comparison to an ambitious project in Japan that is designed to be made of 90% wood. Not anticipated to be completed until 2041, the "W350" project is timed to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Sumitomo Forestry and, when finished, will be some 70 stories, or 750 meters tall. When complete, it will boast balconies on all four sides and completely wood interiors. The final 10% of the project will be steel.

Re-Embracing Wood for Large Construction Projects

There was a time in history when large segments of a city could be devoured quickly by fire. Many cities in the Northeast United States, like Boston, still have fire alarm boxes on almost every corner of the city. Modern technology has made wood safer, more durable and an environmentally-friendly option when choosing construction materials. It also allows for more creativity for architects looking to spread their wings.

An old friend is back as a trendy construction material and that friend is modern wood products. Watch for their use to keep soaring in the future of high-rise construction.

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Comments (2)

Liz, Modlar Administrator • 2019

Hi Mark, thank you for the feedback! We will keep that in mind for future articles.

Mark, Contractor • 2019

Great article however, it was unfortunate you chose residential style wood construction for your photos. There are enough examples of CLT mass timber framing for commercial projects that are underway that should have been shown. Keep up the news on mass timber construction for commercial along with mass timber uses for residential.