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Wood in Today’s Architecture: Inspiring by its Very Nature

By Anne-Charlotte Beck

Timber is the universal material par excellence, deeply rooted in human history, culture, and lives for millennia. Today, timber is enjoying a fascinating architectural renaissance.

In recent years, a new wave of architects, engineers and designers have developed a passion for this material, going beyond its aesthetic, technical and environmental qualities in designs as spectacular as they are sustainable. More and more residential, commercial and even high-rise projects are using timber for its warm beauty, elegance, and durability as well as its lightness, flexibility and environmental benefits.

Since Alvar Aalto’s famous “Living Wood” at the Finnish pavilion at the Paris Universal Expo of 1937, Scandinavian, and particularly Finnish, architects have created veritable works of art out of timber. Some dazzling successes of note in the last 20 years are St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel (Sanaksenaho Architects), the Kamppi chapel (K2S Architects) and the WISA Wooden Design Hotel (Pieta-Linda Auttila). In 2025, Helsinki will have a new “Wood City” district entirely in CLT1 that will accommodate 17,000 people.

In Japan, the masters of timber Kengo Kuma and Shigeru Ban are taking a resolutely aesthetic track. They are designing buildings that are both imposing and delicate. For Kengo Kuma, look at the Sunny Hills Dessert Shop in Tokyo, the GC Prostho Museum and Research Center in Aichi, and the Daiwa Ubiquitous Computing Research Building. For Shigeru Ban, the Terrace House in Vancouver and the new Swatch headquarters in Switzerland.

Today, timber construction is vertical: plans for vertiginous timber high-rises are flourishing all over the world. Twenty-nine buildings over 50 meters high are expected to sprout up around the world in the next three years2.

In 2018, HoHo in Vienna will reach its full height (84 meters). In 2019, Sweden will inaugurate its Kulturhus (76 meters, 20 stories) and is planning a 35-story tower for 2023. Norway has Mjøstårnet (80 meters).

Even more spectacular projects are being designed. In London, the architectural firm PLP is working on a 315-meter timber high-rise that will provide more than 1,000 new homes over 93,000 m2. And Japan is already outdoing them with the W350 Project which should measure 350 meters high (71 floors) and open in 2041.

And in France? By 2020, the 57-meter Hyperion and 53-meter Silva towers will open in Bordeaux. High-rises in Paris, Angers, Toulouse, and Grenoble will soon follow.

Driven by technological innovation, environmental awareness and architects’ creative passion, timber construction is a sustainable trend.



1 CLT: Cross Laminated Timber.

2 Figure given by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Published on 19 April 2018