Timber frames are still incredibly popular when building new homes, especially as the frames can be constructed offsite, improving quality, and saving money on the build. Timber also has a lower environmental impact than many other materials – providing the wood is obtained from a sustainable source, and can even make you feel well. We’ve all experienced the ‘forest bathing’ effect of a walk in the woods (in fact, Japanese medics even prescribe this as therapy for a range of conditions), but high wood contents in schools and offices can even help to boost learning and productivity, and cut absenteeism.
Building beautiful and durable structures is nothing new – the Temple of the Flourishing Law in Japan has been standing for around 1,400 years, surviving weather, earthquakes, and fire. The wood would suggest that the trees were felled towards the end of the 6th century, and that the temple was built immediately after that.
In 2016, the exceptionally well-preserved remains of a Bronze Age village were examined and documented in the UK. The site in Cambridgeshire has been dubbed ‘Britain’s Pompeii’, as there is the same sense that the people that lived there have left in the middle of their day to day activities, and might return at any time. It would appear that a fire caused the residents to flee – and not return – but they left everything behind; half eaten meals in dishes, exceptionally finely-woven fabric, beads, tools, and even the remains of a cart with the spine of its unfortunate horse nearby. The houses were round, and of a close wooden construction. Like other ancient palisade discoveries, the wood that has survived in almost perfect condition would appear to have been heated to strengthen it before use – much like modern Brimstone.
Brimstone itself is British-grown wood which is subjected to kiln-heating to make it ideal for cladding and decking in particular, and fast-growing woods such as ash and sycamore make it sustainable as well as durable.
New techniques employing wood mean that the buildings are getting taller too. The Treet residential building in Bergen, Norway is 14 stories high, and currently the tallest wood building in the world. However, by the end of the year, it is due to be eclipsed by an 18-storey dormitory building for the University of British Columbia. Plans for a 21 storey build are also being made for the Haut building in Amsterdam, with Arup heading up the project. Architects are even planning wooden structures of skyscraper proportions; the Tratoppen (or ‘treetop’) is currently on the drawing board for Stockholm in Sweden, and at 40 floors, will be almost twice the height of the Haut.
There’s no doubt that wood is the best environmental choice, reducing the carbon footprint of builds like this by up to 75%. The reduced weight means that foundations can be more shallow, and the wood itself is not only sustainable, but a natural ‘sink’ for CO2 emissions. Hybrid forms such as CLT and concrete-jointed timber mean that builds are even more durable – perhaps one of the blocks in the planning might still be around in another 1,400 years!