Friday, August 12 2022


Concrete and steel towers are expected in urban environments, but in a move that embraces the past and the future, wood could become the material of choice for more builders.

At Timber House at Park Slope, a 14-unit condo building slated to open in the fall in the trendy neighborhood Brooklyn, New York neighborhood residents will find themselves surrounded by wooden ceilings and floors that provide a connection to nature. It will be the first condominium project in New York to be built with solid wood, which consists of layers of engineered and compressed wood that are glued together for strength.

“People understand more than ever that being in a space built with natural materials makes a difference to how they feel,” said Eric Liftin, founder of MESH Architectures in New York, the architect behind Timber House. “There is a feel-good aspect to being surrounded by woods which includes a sense of positive energy and a sense of calm which are particularly important in an urban environment.”

In addition to the appeal of its natural beauty, solid wood offers sustainability benefits such as a reduced carbon footprint, less construction waste and reduced emissions on construction sites. While massive wood construction has been common in Europe for years, it is expected to gain popularity in US cities since the 2021 International Building Code approved its use for buildings up to 18 stories. Previous codes capped log buildings at a height of 85 feet, according to Paul Richardson, a log expert and director of Buro Happold, a Boston-based global consulting firm. Log residential buildings are also completed or under construction in Portland, Oregon; Cleveland and Seattle.

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Nearly 1,400 hardwood projects were under construction or being designed for residential, commercial or institutional use in all 50 states as of March, according to WoodWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit resource for construction in wood.

“Being in a log building is a lot like wearing a cashmere sweater,” said Jodi Hogerton, marketing manager for New Land Enterprises, developers of Ascent, a luxury log apartment building. in Milwaukee. “Wood has a warmth and softness that makes you feel comfortable. There’s also that nostalgic feeling because at first the wood smells a bit like popsicle sticks.

Durability Benefits of Solid Wood

While timber buildings have been around for centuries, mass timber production technology allows it to be used for larger spans and offers more flexibility, Richardson said.

“Solid lumber combines pieces of young sawn timber to create larger panels and beams,” Mr. Richardson said. “You can create larger beams and have more flexibility with solid wood.”

Depending on the engineering technique used, solid timber may be called cross-laminated timber (CLT), glue-laminated timber (GLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT), or glue-laminated timber (DLT).

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“The main benefit of solid wood is that it significantly reduces the embodied carbon of new buildings, up to 50% compared to a similar concrete or steel building,” Mr Richardson said, referring to gas emissions. greenhouse gases that are produced during construction. construction process, including the manufacture, transport and disposal of construction materials. “Structural engineers study embodied carbon to meet the requirements of a variety of green building standards and to meet sustainability goals.”

Solid wood requires less energy to manufacture than concrete and steel, Mr. Liftin added.

“As new trees grow, they sequester carbon, which makes the product even better for the environment,” Liftin said.

Solid wood also works well with passive house design, which uses window orientation, insulation and other techniques to reduce a building’s energy needs, said Bill Caleo, Timber House developer and co-founder. of The Brooklyn House Co., a Brooklyn-based residential company and hotel developer.


“Massive wooden house and passive house designs go hand in hand, because the goal of passive house design is to reduce carbon emissions and have a more comfortable home,” Caleo said. “Solid wood comes from new forests and trees are a renewable resource.”

Timber House, an all-electric building, has a solar panel on the roof to compensate for electricity consumption in the building, electric charging stations at each parking space, triple-glazed windows, heat pumps with air for heating and air conditioning and LED lighting. Condos are priced from $595,000 for a studio to $4 million for a three-bedroom unit.

Exterior view of Timber House, a 14-unit condominium building set to open in the fall in trendy Brooklyn, New York.

MESH architectures

Ascent’s negative carbon footprint is equivalent to taking 2,350 cars off the road for a year, Ms Hogerton said. Mass timber for Ascent was shipped from Austria, but Richardson said mass timber is increasingly available throughout the United States and Canada.

“Mass timber weighs about a fifth of concrete and requires fewer piles to drive during construction, so we estimate it’s about 25% faster to build with solid timber,” Ms Hogerton said. “It also saves money because of the speed and the fact that you need fewer people on site. The construction is also quieter, which makes the inhabitants of the surrounding buildings happy.

Ascent’s solid lumber arrived at the jobsite with every piece pre-drilled to connect and for electrical and plumbing fixtures. Modular design, especially with panel facades, can speed up the construction process, Richardson said.

“The massive wooden construction can work like the assembly of a giant IKEA piece of furniture,” Mr. Liftin said.

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Solid wood aesthetics

At Ascent, which is the tallest wooden tower in the world at 284 feet with 25 stories, New Land Enterprises Managing Director Tim Gokhman was first intrigued by the aesthetics of solid wood and the idea that it could be a differentiator for a long-planned luxury. rental tower in Milwaukee.

Exterior rendering of Ascent, a luxury log-built apartment building in Milwaukee.

Korb & Associates

“Each piece of digitally engineered solid wood is unique,” ​​Ms. Hogerton said. “Each apartment has wooden ceilings, wooden floors, a balcony and floor to ceiling glass walls.”

Ascent’s apartments, which are all rentals, range from 573 to 1,999 square feet. A three-bedroom, 2.5-bathroom penthouse with lake and city views rents for $8,500. The top floor features two decks, two living rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, a wine tasting room, and other amenity spaces.

“Ascent’s use of solid wood adds to the building’s biophilic design, which incorporates nature as much as possible,” said Ms. Hogerton.

Ascent’s apartments, which are all rentals, range from 573 to 1,999 square feet.

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Wellness amenities at the Ascent include a retractable glass-walled swimming pool, sauna, steam room, and fitness center.

The timber in log buildings is usually left unfinished to showcase its beauty, Liftin said.

“Wood provides excellent insulation, which not only provides energy efficiency, but also makes buildings very quiet,” Liftin said. “We wanted this building to be modern but also warm and connected to the environment.”

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Timber House’s 22-inch-tall wooden beams prompted Mr. Liftin to raise the height of the ceilings even further to achieve a loft-like feel.

“The structure and aesthetics of solid wood is more beautiful than concrete and steel skyscrapers,” Caleo said. “I think Timber House condos resemble old SoHo lofts with exposed wooden columns and ceilings, and large windows that flood the rooms with light.”

Architecturally, the design of mass timber buildings as opposed to concrete and steel is similar, Richardson said. However, most architects design buildings so that the wood is exposed as much as possible.

“It’s a tactile experience to be in a building made of wood instead of concrete and steel,” said Mr. Richardson.

The interior of an apartment at Timber House.

Mark Travis

The future of solid wood

As jurisdictions adopt new building codes, massive wood construction is likely to become more widespread. A concern shared by some officials is the resilience of solid wood against earthquakes, wind and especially fire.

“We secured a grant from the US Forest Department and worked with the Milwaukee Fire Department and the Wood Products Laboratory in Madison to perform intense fire testing with wood products,” Ms. Hogerton said. “We were able to demonstrate the durability of solid wood even in the event of a sprinkler system failure. Our data shows that solid wood performs as well as, or better than, other building materials in a fire, earthquake or high winds.

Solid wood chars on the outside in a fire, which creates a protective layer on the interior wood, Ms. Hogerton said.

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Wood costs have risen exponentially since the pandemic and supply chain issues have caused inflation on a range of building materials and appliances. Caleo said the solid wood used for Timber House was ordered before the pandemic, but he believes the price of solid wood will come down as inflation eases across the industry.

“I think everyone will do some form of mass timber construction in the future,” Caleo said. “Not only does it reduce the building’s carbon footprint, it’s easier to install when delivered in pieces and it’s a healthier way to build. The challenge is to make this understood by general contractors.

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