The Power of Building with Engineered Wood

January 10, 2017

Text by John Mastera

As an architect, builder or homeowner, you are often looking for a material that is the answer to your prayers, a product that is strong, easy to install and has structural integrity. Do you possibly ask for it to be beautiful at the same time?

Well you can, because wood is the answer. But not just any wood—engineered or cross-laminated timber to be exact. It’s a layered wood that provides immense strength all within a lightweight wood board. Building with engineered wood offers many benefits because it’s fast, accurate, and fire resistant thanks to the way wood chars. A thick plank of wood will char on the outside, sealing the wood inside from damage while its metal counterpart begins to melt.

Our changing climate demands that we think more carefully about building with a low carbon footprint. Like any crop, wood is renewable, so it’s sustainable. We can plant more trees, but if we can’t find more iron ore, we won’t have more steel. Concrete and steel require much more energy to produce and transport as well. Wood is five times more insulative than concrete and 350 times more so than steel. That means less energy is needed to heat and cool a wood building.

Though it may seem aesthetically unique, there is a ten-story wood high-rise building going up along the High Line in New York City. The design won the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and two lumber trade groups. The building will be made of engineered wood that will have excellent fireproofing ability and will be of sturdy construction. Meanwhile, timber skyscrapers are planned for Sweden, Canada and Austria.

shop_475-west-18th_exterior-corner_shop-architects-pc-chelseas-high-line-rendering-nyc

SHoP architects via Untapped Cities

In Chicago, an outdoor pavilion features a self-supporting roof made of engineered wood.

Image via Dezeen

Image via Dezeen

Engineered wood allows architects to create structural shapes that wouldn’t be possible with standard lumber. Additionally, it’s strong, pliable and water resistant making it an ideal material for a pergola or canopy roof design. Using high quality wood species give a beautiful warm quality to the structure to expose the woods beauty and patterns.

John Mastera

John Mastera

When looking for the new thing you should consider looking at this building staple reimagined for contemporary building.

Article resources: Popular Science “The World Most Advanced Building Material Is…Wood” 2/6/14,  Untappedcities.com “Shop Architects to Bring NYC’s First High Rise Building to Chelsea” 1/29/16, Dezeen.com “Architects Embrace the Beginning of the Timber Age” 11/9/15

John R Mastera is an internationally recognized leader in architecture, education, and design.  He has been practicing in New Canaan, Connecticut for over 25 years.