If you’ve imagined a future in which every building is made of imposing concrete and steel, then you’re in for a surprise. The future may actually turn out to be a bit more wooden

Wood fell out of favor after disasters like the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Today, however, wood is being reconsidered for its potential to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the building sector and decrease waste, pollution and costs associated with construction. 

Experimenting With Wood

Architects and designers are exploring a new way of using wood, namely as structural timber, which involves attaching pieces of various types of wood, such as pine, fir, spruce, birch, beech and ash, to form larger pieces. The finished product can serve a variety of functions and come in many different sizes. A few popular examples of mass timber include cross-laminated timber (CLT), glue-laminated (glulam) beams, nail-laminated timber (NLT), laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and dowel-laminated timber (DLT).

The Possibilities

According to an article by Vox, “To create CLT, lumber boards that have been trimmed and kiln-dried are glued atop one another in layers, crosswise, with the grain of each layer facing against the grain of the layer adjacent. Stacking boards together this way can create large slabs, up to a foot thick and as large as 18-feet-long by 98-feet-wide, though the average is something more like 10 by 40.”

CLT can match or even exceed the performance of concrete and steel and be used to build entire buildings. Mass timber’s architectural qualities and environmentally-friendly characteristics have helped attract the curiosity of industry professionals and governments across the world. 

How It All Started

The Austrians developed CLT in the early 1990s and adoption of the material spread across Europe in the 2000s for use in residential construction. In the 2010s, North American architects started using CLT as a substitute for concrete and steel in larger buildings. States like Oregon and Washington are actively supporting mass timber and are adopting measures to promote its use in construction projects. 

Moving Forward

Adoption of mass timber on a wider scale is being driven by its many benefits, such as reduced waste and lower costs. However, the interest in mass timber should be balanced with an equal commitment to sustainable forestry. This approach will help create a truly green and sustainable future.