Landscape Sustainability and Tall Wood Building

 Advanced Water Purification Facility Science and Administration Center, Photo Credit: Michael E. Cabezas

So this topic is a bit of a diversion from the normal way we as landscape architects look at the link between landscape sustainability and design, but I thought many of you would find it interesting none the less.  Right now in the architecture world, there is a movement to explore using innovative engineered wood products to build structures traditionally dominated by steel and concrete, including low rise commercial and residential buildings and skyscrapers (the wood version of these are often affectionately called “plyscrapers”).  

The reasons for making this switch are diverse.  For one, wood buildings sequester more carbon than their steel and concrete counterparts.  According to a recent article on Sourceable, “a typical 20-storey concrete building emits 1,215 tonnes of carbon dioxide, while wood sequesters 3,150 tonnes of the gas for a net difference of 4,356 tonnes”.  In addition, wood buildings create a peaceful and healing environment, and are also incredibly aesthetically pleasing- for proof of this, check out some of the projects posted by WoodWorks, a non-profit dedicated to increasing the use of wood in construction. The organic aesthetic of wood construction can also help a building speak to and be a part of the landscapes we design.  Finally, using wood that is grown and harvested in sustainable ways can help maintain the health of our forested landscapes, decreasing pest and fire pressures and incentivising forest land owners to keep their forests as forest by building up viable markets.

Biomass Heating Plant, Hotchkiss School, Photo Credit: David Sundberg/Esto

A quick Google search will show you the momentum around this movement, but I will give you a few of the highlights here.  For a good primer on wood in building, check out Michael Green’s TED talk.  Then, learn a bit about the six story Wood Innovation and Design Center in British Columbia with a great video  outlining the process from design concept to last nail.  Finally, keep an eye out for some new incredible designs- the U.S. Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council is conducting a prize competition funding initiative to support the demonstration of tall wood buildings in the United States. Entries for this competition are due December 8th.

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