Wooden skyscrapers look cool — and they’re sustainable, too

Wooden skyscrapers are coming. They look great, do well in earthquakes and fire, and reduce carbon emissions.

Wooden skyscrapers may at first sound a little impractical, like that time you had to build a tower out of balsa wood in high school. But apparently, they’re all the rage.

They’re made from “mass timber”

That’s when pieces of wood are combined using nails, screws, lamination, or glue to create layers, resulting in large structural posts, beams, or panels.

Visual learners can check out an infographic of various styles here, or this video depicting how one of the most common forms — cross-laminated timber — is made.

Building with mass timber has several benefits:

  • It’s strong, like concrete or steel, but lighter
  • It sequesters CO2 unlike concrete, which generates it, per Fast Company
  • It reduces construction time, labor, and waste, per Vox

It also looks nice. For example, check out this tower in Norway or this house in Australia.

Now, you might be thinking…

… about the little pig who built his house out of sticks, but mass timber has proven to be safe.

It does well in earthquakes and high winds and, should damage occur, is easier to repair than concrete.

It’s also much less of a fire hazard than you’d think. The outside layer chars, protecting the inside.

So why aren’t there more of them?

Mass timber was developed in Austria in the ‘90s and has been prevalent in Europe — just slow in the US.

But in 2021, a change to the International Building Code — which most US cities use — allowed mass timber structures up to 18 stories.

That means more are coming, including a 25-story Mikwaukee apartment building that, per Axios, will become the tallest such structure in the world when complete.

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