Wood

Planting the seeds for greener skylines

February 10, 2020

In 2017, the John W. Olver Design Building was the largest academic building made of massive timber, an engineered wood that is glued together to form long slabs. Environmentalists are advocating for more mass timber buildings instead of steel and concrete, which emit greenhouse gases. Builders, architects, and city planners are excited about a building material that’s green, cost effective, and can help meet housing demands. Experts predict that this is only the beginning of the mass timber movement.  

 

From ‘Forget the log cabin. Wood buildings are climbing skyward — with pluses for the planet’ 

“Mass timber” (for massive) is exciting builders, city planners, and environmentalists around the world. Builders see it as a way to construct structures faster and cheaper. City planners see a fast track that could help reduce housing shortages. And some environmentalists tout its ability to lock up carbon to combat climate change. 

Advocates envision wood buildings sprouting in cities, drastically reducing the cement and steel that generate tons of greenhouse gases. 

“That carbon, you put it in a building, it’s going to stay in the building. It’s not going to be released to the atmosphere,” said Nicole St. Clair Knobloch, a climate policy expert.  

The John W. Olver Design Building was made in just that way. When Peggi Cloustonenvironmental conservation, saw plans for a project of steel and concrete, she and her colleagues balked. With the help of a $3 million state grant, they persuaded the university to change course. 

John W. Olver Design Building

The result in 2017 was the largest U.S. academic structure made of mass timber. The structure’s 70,000 cubic feet of wood hold the carbon from 2,000 tons of CO2 removed from the atmosphere as trees matured. That’s akin to removing 500 cars from the road for a year. 

“Cutting down a tree is something we were told at a very young age is bad,” Clouston said. “But it's not true. Think of the future population and how are we going to house them. If we continue building solely in concrete and steel, we won’t have a planet to put people on.” 

 

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