Timber skyscrapers are sprouting up across the globe, from Vancouver to Vienna. Are they strong enough? Will they rot? And won’t they burn down?
When the Ingalls Building in Cincinnati, Ohio was unveiled in 1903, no one believed it would still be standing over a century later. In fact, it wasn’t expected to last the night.
The towering, 16-storey behemoth was the first concrete skyscraper in world history. Previously they had been made with burly metal alloys such as steel – concrete was extremely experimental. The media ran wild with speculation.
Some said it would crack and crumble under its own weight. Others even suggested it might be blown over. Legend has it that when the supports were removed, a local reporter stayed awakethrough the night, hoping to scoop the story of its collapse the very next morning.
In 2017 we’re on the cusp of a new revolution: wooden skyscrapers. It sounds completely ludicrous, like a modern twist on the construction fable the Three Little Pigs. But it’s really happening. Are they strong enough? Will they rot? And won’t they burn down?
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“Oh wood has some big advantages – how long do you have?” says Ola Jonsson, an associate partner at CF Möller Architects, which won a competition for their design of a 34-storey wooden building.
For a start they’re quicker to build, since even steel skyscrapers have concrete floors which can take weeks to dry. That’s several weeks per floor. On the other hand wood panels can be sliced to exact dimensions in the factory and then slotted into place within a matter of hours.
Then there’s the issue of weight. For a long time Murray Grove, a nine-storey housing block in Hackney, was the highest in the world. “If we’d made it from concrete it would have taken 900 HGVs [heavy goods vehicles] rumbling through London to deliver all the material,” says Anthony Thistleton, a founding director of Waugh Thistleton Architects who designed the building. In the end it took only 100.