Wood architecture has been commonplace in Sweden for centuries, used for private houses, holiday cottages and in smaller towns and villages. So this trend is not so much a leap forward as a contemplated and decisive step into the past. Now it seems wooden buildings are on the rise again.
The latest push in the wood architecture trend is for high-rise residential structures, all created using the popular, sustainable and naturally pleasing material. Strandparken, the apartment complex in Sundbyberg, Stockholm designed by architecture firm Wingardh Arkitektkontor for property developer Folkhem, is the most-discussed recent development in this line of thinking.
Wood is a renewable resource, and when wood architecture is created from sustainable forests, it has added appeal. In terms of Swedish architecture, it’s certainly a material that the Swedes have in abundance. Mr Arne Olsson, Chief Executive Officer of Folkhem, believes that it will revolutionise the building industry.
He explains that as wood is lighter than concrete, it’s easier and more efficient to transport. It’s softer too, so drilling or sawing creates less construction noise than traditional housing builds. Wood also has comparable strength-per-weight ratio to concrete. Olsson asserts we mustn’t forget how durable wood is – it’s easy to maintain, ages with character unlike some other building materials and lasts for centuries.
For some this trend seems to be a step backwards. Wood has been used for buildings in Sweden since Viking times, and indeed across the rest of Europe. Yet many modern sustainability trends, such as ‘make do and mend’ and shopping for loose produce are backward-looking too. Wood only became unpopular due to its propensity to catch fire, but modern technology has solved that issue.
When cross-laminated timber (CLT) was pioneered in Europe to replace concrete blocks, the fire hazard was mitigated. By pressure-gluing multiple layers of timber placed perpendicular to one another, you create CLT. This type of wooden construction is extra strong and only chars on the surface instead of burning right through.
Many architects think the future is wooden, but not all. If wooden buildings continue to grow, some warn that load-bearing issues need to be considered and that sometimes concrete and other materials will end up being more efficient. Safety and building regulations also have to be scrutinised.
All that being said, wood architecture is forging ahead. Tropical countries like Singapore are exploring possibilities with projects like Nanyang Technological University’s sports hall with an arching, pillar-free roof made of glued laminated timber.
Treet, a 14-storey wooden apartment building in Bergen, and another ten-storey apartment in Melbourne, Australia, are just two more examples of wooden buildings permeating the architecture scene. As for Folkhem, they have 18 more wooden building projects they’re keen to get started on immediately.
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