Tall wood buildings are an early 21st century phenomenon, made possible by development of a number of new engineered wood products. Building codes in many jurisdictions currently limit wood structures to no more than 4 or 6-stories; however, the technical limits of wood construction have increased to 40-stories and more through recent innovations. In response, tall wood buildings are rising all over the world.
Modern tall wood construction is enabled by European development of large wood panels known as cross laminated timber. Canada was first in North America to experiment with the new construction material. In British Columbia an 18-story wood building is currently in early stages of construction. In Québec, wood construction of up to 12-stories has recently been approved.
In the U.S., building codes allow wood construction up to 6-stories in some regions, but no more than four in others. However, specific tall wood building projects have recently been granted exemptions to code in several municipalities. Structures of up to 12-stories are planned for Portland, Oregon and New York City. Current concerns about climate issues coupled with increasing recognition of the positive environmental attributes of wood – which include low carbon emissions in processing and massive carbon storage in use – have attracted interest in greater wood use in construction. The extent to which tall wood buildings will be developed in the U.S. remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that wood use will increase in high-rise structures.
Tall wood buildings offer an opportunity to connect rural resources with urban communities in a manner that has the potential to support forest restoration, drive green building, and address carbon emission reduction objectives. However, the use of engineered wood products and new building technologies requires thoughtful consideration of questions about durability, performance, and long-term impact. The continued evaluation, testing, and reporting on tall-wood building research is a key component to ensure the safe and responsible realization of this innovation and its full suite of potential benefits.
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