Seek­ing green op­tions, de­vel­op­ers use more wood to build high-rises

Centre Daily Times (Sunday) - - Business - BY C.J. HUGHES

De­vel­op­ers have not used wood for much other than houses since the horse-and-buggy days. But the knotty build­ing ma­te­rial is mak­ing a come­back.

Seek­ing greener projects, which many con­sumers con­tinue to em­brace de­spite an anti-en­vi­ron­men­tal mood in Wash­ing­ton, builders are choos­ing tim­ber for of­fices, apart­ments and cam­pus build­ings, rather than the con­crete and steel that dom­i­nated con­struc­tion for decades.

Not ev­ery­body is on board with the trend, which is play­ing out from coast to coast. Con­cerns per­sist about wood’s flame re­sis­tance and strength, as well as its cost, which can be 30 per­cent more than tra­di­tional ma­te­ri­als.

But pro­po­nents scored a huge win last month when the In­ter­na­tional Code Coun­cil, an in­flu­en­tial ad­vi­sory group in Wash­ing­ton, con­cluded that some wooden build­ings could climb as high as 18 sto­ries, more than twice the cur­rent per­mis­si­ble height, with­out com­pro­mis­ing safety.

Con­sumers have al­ready shown in­ter­est.

“The con­nec­tions peo­ple have with wood can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated,” said Tim Gokhman, direc­tor of New Land En­ter­prises, which is be­hind two projects in Mil­wau­kee that are mostly made of wood. One is a seven-story of­fice build­ing. The other is As­cent, a 201unit lux­ury rental tower that, at 21 sto­ries, would be the tallest tim­ber build­ing in the Western Hemi­sphere. Both await ap­provals – in­clud­ing per­mis­sion to ex­ceed height re­stric­tions, which de­vel­op­ers say will not pose any dan­ger – but ex­pect to break ground this year.

Un­like the pro­duc­tion of con­crete and steel, which gen­er­ates huge amounts of car­bon diox­ide, the cre­ation of lum­ber is a rel­a­tively low-pol­lu­tion process, Gokhman said.

Trees are also an eas­ily re­new­able re­source, achiev­ing nearly their full size in a decade, said Ja­son Korb, an ar­chi­tect and a de­signer of both New Land projects. He added that the United States had some catch­ing up to do, as wooden tow­ers ex­ist or are un­der­way in Aus­tralia, Aus­tria, Canada and Nor­way, among other places.

“It’s re­ally start­ing to come into its own around the world right now,” Korb said.

Most have metal or brick fa­cades, a stip­u­la­tion of build­ing codes fo­cused on fire re­stric­tions, which means the build­ings often do not stand out from the out­side.

In­side, though, gen­tly stri­ated lum­ber sur­faces are on full dis­play, as they are at Car­bon12, an eight­story, 14-unit con­do­minium in Port­land, Ore­gon, cur­rently the coun­try’s tallest wood struc­ture.

JOHN MUGGENBORN NYT

Work con­tin­ues on this tim­ber of­fice build­ing in New York City. The In­ter­na­tional Code Coun­cil, an in­flu­en­tial ad­vi­sory group in Wash­ing­ton, says some wooden build­ings could climb as high as 18 sto­ries, more than twice the cur­rent per­mis­si­ble height, with­out com­pro­mis­ing safety.

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