Wood has been used for facade cladding for a long time, and the natural product has been the main material for the construction of buildings for long periods in history. During the last century, concrete and steel have become increasingly popular as the leading structural materials when developers and architects wish to build houses or high-rises, but wood holds on. Actually, wood is getting trendy.
The Danish architectural firm Tegnestuen Vandkunsten uses wood as a central element in many of their projects. According to one of the company’s wood aficionados, architect Kim Dalgaard, wood is returning to the building sector as a load-bearing material.
“The reason for the increased usage of wood is multi-faceted. First of all, there has been a huge leap in technological possibilities connected to wood products – for instance, the utilisation of wood carving robots on the manufacturing of building elements.
Secondly, it’s about sustainability. Today, sustainability certifications are becoming increasingly popular, and here, wood has better scores in regards to a lot of the parameters in which building materials can score. These include greenhouse gas emission, waste production, energy consumption, and pollution levels,” says Kim Dalgaard.
“Wood is the most sustainable material per definition,” he continues. “It’s a natural construction material, which can be reproduced by nature itself. It consumes CO2, and less CO2 is emitted during manufacturing, when compared to other common materials. Wood can also be dismantled and re-used, or downgraded for other purposes, like sawdust, making paper, wood plate products, or be burned for energy purposes. Concrete, for example, hasn’t got the same reusable traits.”
One factor is sustainability; a second parameter is the design aspect. Dalgaard and his fellow colleagues experience a more satisfying architectural result, when using wood as a central component in structures. According to him, you get the same feeling as with traditional Danish craft design, where you can see visible joints and constructional connections.
“Contemporary wooden buildings are often very honest in regards to showing off how they’re made. So in a way, it is much more satisfying to look at a wooden building – not only for architects,” Dalgaard says with a small laugh.
A common fallacy
You may believe that wood has a low level of durability, but its durability is actually just as good as any other material, when it is used in construction. Façade wood, though, has a shorter life-span than traditional materials like brick, and wood is less durable, when used on façades, even though it still might be more sustainable.
“People usually understand a wooden house [to be] a house with wooden façades. But we like to think of a wooden building, as a building which is mainly constructed out of wood, and that shows of the construction material. So wood is typically apparent on the inside, but not necessarily on the façade, which can be wood, but might as well be an inorganic material,” Dalgaard explains.
“The [load-]bearing capacity of wood is actually one of the best, related to its weight, although you’ve got to be more careful with wood. It’s an organic material, so you have to be more alert, when using it in architecture. Although there’s nothing that you can do with other materials that you can’t do with wood,” Dalgaard says.
“It has the same level of usability or utilisation … maybe you can’t build the tallest house on the planet, but you can build a whole lot of other things.”
Tegnestuen Vandkunsten’s wooden designs include Tapperiet, which is a cultural institution in Køge, Denmark, and Lethallen, which is a skater hall in Gentofte, Denmark. View pictures of the two projects in the above slideshow.