Michael Green: Why we should build wooden skyscrapers



Translator: Elvira Peço Reviewer: Helena Bedalli This is my grandfather. And this is my son. My grandfather taught me to work with wood when I was a little boy, and also taught me that if a tree is waiting for you to do something else, honor the life of that tree and make it as beautiful as possible to be able to. My little boy reminded me that regardless of technology or toys worldwide, sometimes a small piece of wood, if you put them on top of each other, it is an extremely inspiring thing. These are my buildings. I build all over the world outside our offices in Vancouver and New York. We build buildings of different sizes and styles as well as different materials, depending on where we are. But wood is the material I love the most, and I will tell you a story about wood. Part of the reason why I love her is that every time that people enter inside my wooden buildings, notice that they react extremely differently.

I have not seen anyone enter one of my buildings and encounter a steel or concrete column, but in fact I have seen this happen inside a wooden building. I have really seen how people touch wood, and I think there is a reason for that. Like snowflakes, so are two pieces of wood they cannot be the same all over the Earth. This is a wonderful thing. I like to think wood gives Mother Nature the fingerprints in our buildings. It is Mother Nature's fingerprints who do our buildings connect with nature in our building environment. Now, I live in Vancouver, near a forest which has a height of 33 floors. Down here, off the coast of California, the giant sequoia forest reaches a height of 40 floors. But the buildings we think to build in wood are only four floors in most places.

Even building laws themselves limit the ability of us to build buildings taller than four storeys in many places, and this is applicable here in the United States. There are exceptions, but it is necessary to have some exceptions, and I hope things change. The reason I think so is that today half the population lives in cities, and that number will increase by 75 percent. Cities and population density means our buildings will continue to be bigger, and I think there is a role for wood to contribute to the city. I feel this way because 3 billion inhabitants currently in the world today, in the next 20 years, will need a new home. This makes up 40 percent of the world that will need it a new building in the next 20 years. Now, one in three people living in the city today actually live in ghetto neighborhoods. In total there are one billion inhabitants living in slums. One hundred million people in the world are homeless. Degree of challenge for architects and for the society facing construction is to find solutions for housing these people.

But the challenge remains, when we move to cities, because they are made of two materials, steel and concrete, and are in fact perfect materials. They are the materials of the last century. But they are also very high energy materials and also release many polluting gases during their processing. Steel makes up about three percent release of these gases into the atmosphere, and the concrete exceeds the mass of five per cent. So if you think about it, eight percent of the contributions of these polluting gases to the atmosphere today comes only from these two materials.

Unfortunately, we do not think so deeply, I think, in fact, that we do not think at all about our buildings, as much as we should think. These are U.S. statistics on the impact of polluting gases. Almost half of them are related to the construction industry, and if we also refer to energy, the same thing happens. You will notice that transport comes second on that list, but this is one of the conversations we hear the most. Although much of the debate is over energy, is just as much on carbon. The problem I see is that, eventually, disagreement on how we solve that problem to serve those three billion people who need a home, as well as climate change, are about to happened, or are already happening.

This challenge means we have to start thinking in new ways, and I believe wood will be part of our solution, and I will tell you why. As an architect, wood is the only material, great material, with which I can build and that is increased by solar power. When a tree grows in the forest and releases oxygen, and absorbs carbon dioxide, and then he dies and falls to the ground in the forest, it releases carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere or the earth. If burned by forest fires, it will release carbon back into the atmosphere. But if you take that wood and make a building or a piece of furniture or a wooden toy, she has a wonderful ability to store carbon and keep it away from us.

One cubic meter of wood can deposit one ton of carbon dioxide. Our two climate solutions are clear reducing the release of pollutant gases into the atmosphere and their storage. Wood is the only important material with which I can build and which simultaneously fulfills the two things mentioned above. So I think we have an ethic that the Earth increases our food, and it is necessary to move towards an ethic in this century that the Earth should also increase our dwellings. Now, how can we do such a thing while urbanization is increasing and think of wooden buildings with only four floors? We need to reduce the use of concrete and steel as well to increase the height, and what we are working with is a 30 storey wooden building high.

pexels photo 6775403

We designed them together with an engineer who is called Eric Karsh and who works with me, and we are doing this new project because there is a lot of timber available to use, and we call them solid wood panels. These panels are made of new trees, trees that do not grow very tall, small pieces of wood glued together to create panels that are giant: about 2 feet and a half wide, 20 feet high, and of various thicknesses. The best way to describe this, is to say that we all know two-by-four constructions when we think of wood. This is the conclusion that people immediately draw. Two- by four-dimensional constructions are more or less like those 8-point Lego bricks we all played as kids, and with which you can build full of beautiful things in two-by-four proportions. But remember when you were a kid, and hid in the basement, and you found that toy with Lego plastic bricks, and you felt like, "Fantastic, that's great.

I can build something really big, and that's going to be fantastic. " This is the difference. Solid wood panels are those bricks with 24 points. They change the scale of what we want to do, and what we've developed is something called FFTT, which is a Creative Commons solution to build a flexible system, of building these large panels where we can erect six floors at once if we want. This cartoon shows you how these buildings come together in a very simple way, but these buildings are available for architects and engineers already under construction for different cultures around the world, in different architectural styles and types. In order to build safe, currently, we have designed these buildings, to work in the Vancouver field, which is a high seismic area, even for 30-storey buildings. It is clear that, whenever I present such a thing. people, even those at this conference, say, "Really? Thirty floors? How can such a thing happen?" There are many questions that have been asked and very important questions with which we spend a lot of time to give answers as we put together our reports and those reviewed by our colleagues.

I will focus on some of them, and let us begin with fire, for I think fire is probably the first thing you are all thinking at the moment. Very right. The way I will describe it is this. If I were to ask you to get a lighter and hold a stick in your hand and try to light it, that's not going to happen, is it? We all know this. To light a fire, you have to start with small pieces wood and working with fire, and then you can add the big wood to the fire, and of course, after you throw it in the fire, it starts to burn, slowly.

Agree, solid wood panels, these new products that we are using, resemble this wood. It's hard to set them on fire, and when that happens, they burn extremely predictably, and we can use fire science to predict and make these buildings as safe as concrete ones and also like steel. The next big debate, deforestation. Eighteen percent of our contributions in the release of polluting gases into the atmosphere comes as a result of deforestation. The last thing we want to do is cut down the trees. Or, the last thing we want to do is cut down the wrong trees. There are models to support afforestation that allow us to cut the trees properly, and they are the only suitable trees used in these types of systems. I currently think these ideas will change the economy of deforestation. In countries with deforestation problems, we must find a way to give a higher forest value and encourage people to earn money through rapid growth cycles– of 10-, 12-, 15- year-old trees that produce these products and allow us to build on this scale. We have calculated a 20 – storey building: We will grow enough hardwoods in North America every 13 minutes.

It takes so long. The carbon level here is very good. If we build a 20-storey apartment with cement and concrete, the process would result in production of that cement as well as 1,200 tons of carbon dioxide. If we built it with wood, by means of this solution, we would deposit 3,100 tons, for a difference of 4,300 tons. This is equivalent to 900 cars removed from road traffic in one year. Think again about those three billion people who need a new home, and this is probably the contribution. I hope we are at the beginning of an evolution, in the way we build, because this is the first new way to build a skyscraper maybe in the next 100 years or so. But the challenge lies in changing the perception of opportunity from society, and this is a great challenge. Engineering is the easiest part of all this, really. And the way I describe it is this. Technically – the first step, and the gradation definition is 10 floors high, believe it or not– but the first gradation was this one in Chicago, and the people were terrified to walk under this building.

Only after four years of being built, Gustave Eiffel built the Eiffel Tower, and while building the Eiffel Tower, he changed the horizons of the cities of the world, changed and created competition between places like New York City and Chicago, where builders began to build ever larger apartments and pushed development higher and higher with even more advanced engineering. We are currently building this model in New York, as a theoretical model on campus of a technology university coming to an end soon, and the reason why we chose this place is to show you what these buildings might look like, because the outside can change. It's exactly the structure we talked about. The reason we chose it is that this is a technology university, and I believe wood is the most advanced technological material with which it can be built. It happens that Mother Nature holds the patent in her hand, and we do not feel very comfortable about it. But that's the way things should be, signs of nature in the construction environment. I am looking for this opportunity to build the moment of the Eiffel Tower, so we call it.

Many apartments are being built all over the world. It is a nine-storey building in London, another new one just finished in Australia, which I believe is 10 or 11 storeys high. We are trying to increase the height of these buildings, and hope, I hope, that the city where I live, Vancouver currently has the tallest building in the world of 20 floors, in the near future. That the Eiffel Tower moment breaks the boundary, this arbitrary height limit, and allow timber buildings to join this competition. And I believe the race continues. Thank you. (Applause).

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