Several years ago, an uncommon request was made to the Vancouver planning commission. An architecture firm wished to construct an 18-story skyscraper from wood. In Canada, like most of the world, building codes limit wood structures to 4 stories, six at most. Brock Commons, which will house more than 400 University of British Columbia undergraduates beginning next Fall, is an order of magnitude larger than the majority of wood architecture, and currently the tallest wooden structure in the world.
It’s not likely to hold the record for long. The strategies utilized to construct Brock Commons– such as glue laminated lumber columns— are strong enough to support a high-rise building as tall as the Empire State Building according to recent price quotes, and a 24-story structure is currently underway in Vienna. Furthermore, architectural interest in this earliest of building products is surging globally, strengthened by environmental issues about the ecological effect of concrete and steel manufacturing.
An important new exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau highlights the ecological benefits of structure in wood and also surveys the remarkable series of innovation in contemporary wood architecture. Lots of brand-new and imagined structures are displayed in stylish wood models and further elaborated in pictures and makings.
By numerous standards, Brock Commons is conservative. The designers went with a hybrid structure, with a concrete core for toughness, and abundant use of drywall as defense against fire. Neither of these concessions were strictly required. (For example, thick pieces of lumber naturally avoid fire from spreading by charring when exposed to flame.) The motivation for including conventionally contemporary products was mainly psychological: to assure planners and future residents that the building is safe.
Ultimately, these inhibitions will be overcome. Wood structures will emulate standard high-rise buildings with increasing fidelity, removing ever more steel and concrete. Yet the greater capacity is to develop entirely brand-new architectural types that make the most of wood by itself, resolving the qualities of timber products with innovative structural analysis and fabrication methods.
The Marin-Gropius-Bau exhibit consists of numerous examples of structures built on arboreal thinking. For instance, the Kaeng Krachan Elephant Park in Zurich is protected by an undulating wood shell that makes use of woodgrain to distribute force. The shape is partially notified by the products.
The notion of type following function is typically associated with Modernism, but in fact it’s as ancient as building. Slowly abandoned over centuries of decoration and ornamentation, it was recovered at the moment that the product compound of structure became fully artificial. With the return to wood in the age of structural engineering, Modernism can handle new vigor.
Wood pays for brand-new restrictions. Those restraints will lead to brand-new types of charm.