Wood is in the spotlight on Scandinavia’s architectural scene. It’s thought to be much better for the environment than more commonly used materials – like concrete.
Scandinavia is no stranger to unique feats of architecture. But timber construction is practical, along with being interesting.
Environmental benefits of wood
“Just changing the structure of a building to wood from concrete would result in an immediate 50 percent reduction in emissions,” Anna Ervast Oberg, a project manager at Swedish real estate company Folkhem told the New York Times. In 2012, Folkhem decided to build exclusively in wood, using cross-laminated timber (CLT).
Timber skyscrapers, such as the Cedar House complex currently being built by Folkhem in Stockholm, still require a concrete base. But constructing the rest of the building with wood is a game-changer. Wood is ecologically superior to concrete, experts say, for a multitude of reasons.
For example, concrete requires sand, a finite resource that’s increasingly sourced through damaging procedures like scraping up seabeds and riverbeds. This, of course, often irreversibly damages animal habitats. But using wood from managed forests is much more sustainable.
Additionally, wood can be prefabricated ahead of time in a factory instead of on-site. Concrete requires prefabrication at the construction site, which often causes truck traffic, and therefore, increased vehicle emissions.
Not possible in the past
Before managed forests came about, building with wood could’ve proven harmful to the environment. But Sweden is a world leader in managed forestry. 70% of the country’s surface area is forested, double the amount 50 years ago.
Fire risks also hindered timber construction through the end of the 20th century. Wood was outlawed in building for many years because so many European cities were lost in ravaging fires throughout history.
However, “the technology has been steadily developing since then, to the point that those in the industry say [wood’s] fire risk is on par with other materials,” the New York Times reported.
Norway a major wood archutecture pioneer
Norway is the record holder in timber construction height, with an 18-story wooden hotel in Brumunddal. The construction is just a touch shorter than the Statue of Liberty in New York City.
The building, dubbed the Wood Hotel, stretches 86 meters above ground level. Its 18 floors are home to 72 hotel rooms, a suite, and six meeting rooms.
In general, Norway has seen a significant increase in timber construction.
Veidekke, an Oslo-based construction company, recently participated in a comparative project aiming to contrast wood vs. concrete architecture. In Trondheim, Veidekke put up two identical buildings – from the outside, that is. On the inside, one is timber, and one is concrete.
“What happened was they could make three more stories on the timber house and still save NOK two million on the foundation work because it was easier to make,” Oberg told the New York Times. “They also looked at the health of the construction workers and saw that the hours people were sick was much less in the timber project. Injuries were less, and construction time was shorter.”
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