Politicians, architects, and scientists increasingly herald timber as an Earth-saving building technology, but not everyone agrees.
Cities are shaped by fire. From Chicago to San Francisco, enormous swathes of urban fabric were wiped away by accident in the 19th century. These horrific disasters did more than just clear the way for new development, though. They also helped spur building codes that outlawed the use of one particularly dangerous building material: timber.
More than a century later, a massive reversal is taking place. An 80-story timber skyscraper is being proposed by British architects. Architects in the U.S. are racing to clinch the title of the tallest wood building in the country. Elsewhere in the world, architecture students are enrolling in programs focused solely on timber construction technology. The federal government is now funneling money into promoting timber in tall urban buildings.
Fueled by the wood products industry (a $200 billion market, if you include paper), sustainability issues, and emerging ideas from building science, wood buildings are no longer pastoral artifacts. According to many scientists and architects—and not a few wood lobbyists—they’re the future. But not everyone agrees. […]