An 18 storey building rising up 84.5 metres in the Norwegian city of Brumunddal has just become the tallest wooden structure in the world. Yet this is not the only flagship construction project to feature this material: Brock Commons in Vancouver (Canada) or a 14 storey apartment block in Bergen (also in Norway), also attracted media attention in their day.
Many other mid-rise and tall buildings featuring wood as their base material are springing up in large cities as part of a trend that looks set to continue. Indeed, wood is a sustainable solution to global urban challenges. Half the world’s population live in cities, a figure that is estimated to rise as high as 70% (6,800 million inhabitants) by 2050.
Demographic pressure on large cities will require the construction of new buildings in a sector that accounts for 40% of all CO2 emissions, 30% of energy consumption and 20% of water usage. In the light of these figures, is it feasible to continue with traditional building methods? Should cement, with production methods that generate 6% of CO2 emissions, and steel, responsible for 8% (half of which correspond to the construction industry), form the base for the transformation of our cities?
If we heed international policies designed to fight climate change, then the answer is no. The current model should be replaced with an alternative that cuts the use of fossil fuels and pollution in cities. And it is here where wood, which has been used in construction since the origins of humankind, has a renewed role to play as a natural, renewable and reusable material for architecture. A material that uses less energy during transformation processes and also favours the conservation of forest mass, the principal carbon sink.
EU initiatives in this sense include the launch of the KnoWood project. House Habitat has joined this project, intended to promote the design and construction of sustainable mid-rise and tall wooden buildings.
Eleven organisations have signed up to KnoWood, including universities, technology centres and companies based in Denmark, Lithuania, the UK, Canada and Spain. House Habitat, specialists in wooden constructions, is one of them. The objectives include the promotion of wooden building and consequently sustainable forest growth, boosting employment in the wood industry, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and creating know-how and innovative training programmes in the academic field.
In short, the newly-completed Brumunddal skyscraper symbolises a new era in which the noise and dust generated by building work in cities will give way to the smell of wood. The environment will most certainly thank us for it.