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Build with wood and save the planet, says report

Oakwood Tower   River at Night  low res
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Building a new generation of timber buildings, including skyscrapers, would help the UK meet the goals of the Paris climate change agreement, a new report by the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering claims

The government-commissioned report says that radical action is needed immediately to enable the UK to hit the climate change obligations of the 2015 Paris agreement, including avoiding the use of carbon-intensive steel and concrete by building far more with wood.

It points to the benefits of planting new forests to provide supply, and recommends the use of fast-growing species such as bamboo. The report says the UK construction industry has been reluctant to use timber as much as other countries have, but says architects are helping to push greater take-up.

‘Although some countries have a tradition of wood, in others, such as the UK, there is some public unease associated with the fire performance of timber-framed houses,’ it says. ‘There are, nevertheless, also significant aesthetic qualities associated with building using engineered wood products, which means there is a drive for their increased use from architects.’

The report calls for further research to be carried out ‘to establish whether large-scale, treated timber buildings behave differently to non-combustible structures in a fire’, but it points out that increasingly ambitious wooden structures are being built, such as an 18-storey student residence in British Columbia by Canadian practice Acton Ostry Architects.

In the UK, Waugh Thistleton’s nine-storey Murray Grove scheme was contructed entirely from pre-fabricated solid timber and in 2016, a conceptual plan for a 300m-tall timber skyscraper rising from London’s Barbican complex (pictured) was put forward by PLP Architecture and Cambridge University.

Only around a fifth of new-build homes in the UK are timber-framed, and the academics suggest this could increase to about 90 per cent.

The report says that building with biomass would both avoid new emissions and provide storage for CO2 captured in forestry, which could potentially save 14-31 per cent of global carbon emissions and 12-19 per cent of global fossil fuel emissions. However, it acknowledged this would require more than 34 per cent of the world’s sustainable wood growth.

The academics also called on the government to further develop ways of capturing and storing greenhouse gases, some of which have yet to be demonstrated at scale. Examples of this include machines to extract carbon from the air and capturing and storing the carbon from biomass power stations. 

Murray Grove

Murray Grove

Waugh Thistleton’s Murray Grove scheme

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