Wooden Skyscrapers?

Design by Canadian architect Michael Green for a 30 story building made of wood

Design by Canadian architect Michael Green for a 30 story building made of wood

It is environmental week here at Great Ideas, Practical Steps. Not only that, it’s ‘better uses for trees’ week. Tuesday I wrote about recycling Christmas trees. Today it is about using wood to make skyscrapers. Who knows what tomorrow will be. The common theme in these stories so far is that even though some people may have a problem with cutting trees down in order to do anything, trees are a much more renewable and eco-friendly resource than man made materials such as concrete and plastic.

Today’s story is about building. 100 years ago people didn’t hesitate to build 7 story buildings from wood. But since concrete and steel that made it possible to build the super tall skyscrapers we have today, we usually think we could only build short buildings out of wood. Concrete and steel use a lot of energy to produce and create a lot of greenhouse gases, but that’s just a cost of doing business, right?

Turns out maybe not. New technologies and designs are making wood a viable alternative for skycraping structures. And since wood, unlike concrete or steel, stores greenhouse gases, this would make those structures vastly more ecologically friendly, not to mention prettier. In the December 2012 National Geographic magazine, they suggest that a 20 story building like the one above would have a net CO2 effect of -4,356 tons between the sequestration of carbon in the wood and the lack of emissions from the concrete and steel.

There is another interesting story from Canada, of forests dying because of the lack of cold winters to keep beetle populations in check. If these trees just stand there, rotting or burning up over the next decades, all the carbon they have stored will be released back into the atmosphere. So the Canadian government is promoting the use of wood in buildings. Perfect timing for these skyscrapers.

In Nara, Japan a wooden pagoda has survived for 1300 years. These modern wooden buildings might not last that long, but with the right design, and the right use, they could stay beautiful for as long as the concrete and steel buildings next door.


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