Building Sustainable Skyscrapers from Laminated Veneer Lumber

Some architects believe that in order to build the sustainable cities of the future, we need to look back to the log cabin era and build “skyscrapers” out of strong wood such as laminated veneer lumber.

| November/December 2012

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Conservation

Just over a century ago, the architects and engineers who invented the skyscraper set us on the path to becoming an urban world. Tall buildings of concrete and steel helped make urban density—and the increased sustainability that comes with it—possible.

But the buildings themselves come at a heavy, and often hidden, environmental price. Concrete and steel are some of the most energy-intensive materials on the planet. The manufacture and transport of concrete, for example, is responsible for about five percent of global CO2 emissions, more than the entire airline industry.

Woodscrapers: Building Sustainable Skyscrapers

“When we talk about sustainability of buildings, we’re really tinkering around with the little minutiae”—a green roof here, a solar panel there, says Michael Green, an architect in Vancouver, Canada. “Those things are good, but they’re not even close to good enough.”

Green thinks that in order to build the sustainable cities of the future, we need to look back to the log cabin era. That is, we should be building skyscrapers out of wood. His design concept for a “woodscraper” is based on mass timber, a class of wood products that come in panels up to 64 feet long and eight feet wide. These materials, with names such as cross-laminated timber, laminated strand lumber, and laminated veneer lumber, look similar to plywood but are thicker and much stronger.

Depending on the specifics of the design and materials used, mass-timber towers could be built at least 30 stories high. They wouldn’t be the world’s tallest buildings, but “we’re talking about the kinds of buildings where most people will live,” Green says. These kinds of buildings could perhaps accommodate the planet’s nearly two billion new urban dwellers expected over the next 20 years.

7/12/2014 6:01:17 AM

I like the idea of using wood materials in buildings but is the laminated veneer lumber strong enough to be able to build skyscrapers and last in time? My nephew built his house using laminated veneer lumber but recently he noticed the wood was damaged so he decided to and try to figure out a solution for this.