Construction Technology/News

Building Trends: An Old Material Becomes New Again


Even if the construction industry has been slower to adopt new technology than other industries, we’ve seen a significant amount of change in recent years. The industry is experimenting with technologies like drones, virtual reality, wearables and 3D scanning. Technology companies are creating tools like bricklaying robots and printing houses with 3D printers. Contractors are also turning to cloud-based, integrated construction software solutions to improve collaboration and streamline processes.

In addition to changing technology, we may also be on the cusp of a shift in building materials. But the material under consideration might surprise you. Architects are looking to wood—specifically cross-laminated timber—as an alternative to steel and concrete for high-rise buildings. At a time when the cost of building materials is on the rise, alternatives like this might be worth some extra attention.

Is Wood the Future?

Wood may not sound like an innovative building material, and wooden skyscrapers might sound like a strange idea. However, this concept has gained some traction recently with architects around the world in cities like Chicago, London, Minneapolis and Vancouver designing wooden high-rises.

What’s so great about wood? The specific wood in question, cross-laminated timber, is an extra strong plywood made by gluing together thin pieces of wood to form an incredibly strong composite. The material has been used in Europe and Canada for years, but is now gaining attention in the United States. In addition to its strength, this material is appealing for environmental reasons because it sequesters carbon dioxide. Concrete, on the other hand, has a high carbon footprint since creating it requires a lot of energy. Cross-laminated timber may also prove to be a good seismically-stable alternative to traditional materials because of its light weight.

Some of the wooden skyscraper designs being discussed are just concepts at this point, but a few buildings have become a reality. The Bullitt Center in Seattle, for example, is made largely from timber on a concrete base. While not entirely wood, it does show a significant departure from traditional building methods.

In Portland, Oregon, home of the Viewpoint headquarters, a condo building recently caught our attention. The eight-story Carbon12 building is made from cross-laminated timber with a steel core.

The building’s developer, Ben Kaiser, told Portland Monthly that getting everyone involved in the project on board with the wood construction—including banks, investors and contractors—was a challenge, but that the new material offered advantages. The actual construction of the building was fairly straightforward because a fabricator custom-cut the wood pieces, so no sawing had to take place on the jobsite.

As Green Construction Grows, So Could Cross-Laminated Timber

Kaiser said a building like this is possible today because of increased concern about sustainability. The fact that wooden buildings sequester carbon is a big selling point that could lead to a growing number of cross-laminated timber buildings in the future. Contractors should stay tuned for more discussion about this building trend because it’s likely to continue.

To make sure you’re keeping up with the latest construction industry news, subscribe to our weekly blog newsletter (on the upper right side of this page). Interested in green construction? Check out our other recent blogs on the topic.