Local government action to halt climate change is providing a boost for wood-based construction.
The new trend for environmentally aware architecture has led to a number of public wood-based projects around the world.
For example, Copenhagen will soon have its very first district built fully in wood, whilst France will require all new public buildings to be made of at least 50% wood. In turn, Canada is eliminating regulations limiting wood-frame buildings and is increasing the permitted height in order to cut CO2 emissions.
However, when it comes to initiatives of this type, Japan is the undisputed pioneer: since 2010 the use of wood has been compulsory in all public buildings of more than three storeys.
Closer to home, we can also find public development projects. Hondarribia (Basque Country) boasts a block of 65 subsidised housing units made of locally-sourced wood, whilst Navarra is progressing with plans to build a Passivhaus block of 32 housing units for rental to the elderly.
In Cornellá de Llobregat (Barcelona), work is underway on a 5 storey building containing 85 housing units that includes a cross laminated timber (CLT) structure, a project led by the Peris+Toral Arquitectes studio.
We asked architect José Manuel Toral for his views on this trend.
“Public administrations should promote changes”
What was the reason for choosing wood for the Cornellá building?
The wood-frame structure was included in the tender phase, as this is a building featuring equally sized 360 cm x 360 cm rooms that coincide with the structural spans, which allow for the use of the CLT building technique. Essentially, the space is formed by the structure.
What added value does this material contribute to the project?
For us, the most interesting feature of wood is the sense of comfort it provides – visually in the exposed areas – as well as functionally. For instance, in hygrothermal terms, wood regulates moisture levels, as it is capable of absorbing or expelling moisture into the atmosphere. It also acts as an insulator, minimising the thermal bridges on continuous balconies. And of course, it also meets architecture and health criteria, which are the next challenge that lies ahead.
However, the greatest advantage of using wood in the building industry is that in comparison with a conventional structure, CO2 emissions are far lower.
We will be seeing an increasing use of wood in public initiative building projects?
Definitely. I am absolutely sure we will because it is an industrialised method that cuts building times considerably and is also environmentally friendly. And in this sense, I believe that public administrations should set an example at all phases of the process in order to bring about changes that affect the entire industry – the public as well as the private sectors.
What role should architects play in terms of the challenges currently facing our climate?
Changes in architecture are dependent on technological developments. The appearance of CLT back in the 1990s revolutionised wood-frame structures, as rather than working with linear elements, CLT uses two dimensional panels that can be cut with numerically controlled machinery, thereby considerably reducing building times and costs.
In this sense, it is up to the architects to take advantage of the technology available at any given time, and to adopt solutions based on the realisation that resources are limited. It is therefore a case of knowing how to prioritise the decisions to be made, putting functionality before other impositions.
How do you see the future of wood as a building material?
I am convinced that wood will replace concrete in many types of buildings, and that it will play a key role in reducing CO2 emissions in the buildings of the future.