The City of Lights might possibly be able to claim a new nickname as the City of Wood. A new proposal in Paris is generating buzz that would launch a series of wooden skyscrapers, one of them being 35-stories high and making it the tallest wooden building in the world.
The idea of trading steel and concrete for buildings made entirely of wood might sound like a delusional idea bound for failure – after all, last we checked wood was still ineffective against fire – but it’s not as ridiculous as it might seem.
Michael Green is the architect behind the idea to build the 35-story wooden skyscraper called Baobab, champions the advancements made over the last decade in building with wood. It’s now considered stronger, safer, and more economical in many ways than building with steel and concrete.
The secret is trading in traditional wooden beams for prefabricated beams made of alternating sheets of wood laminated on top of one another. Plus, it’s more resistant to fire than say your typical log cabin because one burning layer of wood creates a protective char layer of insulation to shield the surrounding layers. It’s not only the strength of the building material that Green argues would benefit the city’s landscape, but its environmental impact as well. He estimates that switching to wood versus steel for building construction would have the environmental benefit to the city of removing 2,2027 cars from the road.
It’s not just Paris that could be building wooden skyscrapers in the future; we could start to see them in the United States as well. After witnessing the construction of a nine-story London apartment building made of wood in 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture decided to revisit the idea of building on a large scale with wood. In 2014 the White House invested $1 million dollars in a competition for wooden high-rise project and another million to educating architects on working with cross-laminated beams.
While new developments in high-rise construction with wood might have come a long way in terms of strength and efficiency, there are obviously roadblocks in the way.
For one – where’s all this wood going to come from? If you’ve ever spent an afternoon browsing the lumber section of Home Depot, then you know that wood can get pretty pricey, and the amount needed to build a skyscraper isn’t going to be cheap. There are also building codes to deal with and lobbyists hired by chemical and plastics companies that would rather not see sustainable building materials become the norm.
Of course, when Paris’ Eiffel Tower went up a century ago it revolutionized they way architects looked at building with steel, so maybe it’s time for Paris to do that again with wood.