Advances in engineered wood products send height limits soaring.

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Half of the world’s population currently lives and works in urban areas, and futurists predict that by 2050 that figure will grow to 75 percent. At the same time, traditional building materials – steel, concrete and plastic – are major contributors to toxic greenhouse gases.

“There’s a need to reinvent construction so that we can meet the growing worldwide housing needs and minimize the effects of the construction industry on the environment,” says Mark Doumit, Executive Director of the Washington Forest Protection Association. “Building with timber from sustainably grown forests can actually help to solve both of these global problems.”

Exciting new advances in engineered wood products are enabling the construction of tall, modern buildings that are economical, safe and good for the environment.

A worldwide tall wood-building revolution

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Canada and many other countries throughout Europe and Asia have embraced the promise of tall, green buildings that use state-of-the-art wood products including prefabricated CLT panels.

Brock Commons at University of British Columbia holds the current world record for tall wood buildings. The student residential tower, built in September 2016, stands 18 stories (174 feet) tall. Other contenders for the world’s tallest wood building are currently being designed, including a 187-foot tower for Bordeaux, France, a 240-foot tower for Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and a 997-foot skyscraper for London.

While U.S. building ordinances limit the height of wood buildings to four stories, cross-laminated timber is a light and sturdy, slow-burning building material that is opening the door for a new generation of economical and environmentally friendly tall wood buildings.

U.S. building ordinances are lagging behind the technology available, but that’s changing.  There are several CLT building project in the Pacific Northwest. As that number grows, there is enormous promise in CLT for the Northwest timber industry.

Pacific NW leads development of tall wood buildings in U.S.  

Wood researchers at Oregon State University, funded by a $500,000 federal grant, are testing CLT to ensure it meets state building codes. Thomas Maness, dean of OSU college of forestry, estimates that changing the state building code requirements for wood buildings is likely three to six years away.

Meanwhile, individual building plans must include reports on how cross-laminated building components perform – and, they are passing with flying colors, getting approval on construction permits. In fact, Oregon is becoming a showcase for buildings that use CLT to replace steel and concrete in construction.

Just last April an eight-story condo tower made with CLT instead of steel beams was completed in North Portland, becoming the nation’s tallest wood building. An 11-story wood high-rise in the Pearl District was granted a construction permit in mid-June, vying for the crown. Buildings made out of cross-laminated timber are slated to go up soon at the Oregon State University campus in Corvallis. Springfield Mayor Christine Lundberg has said she would like to see the material used to build a parking garage in Glenwood.

Here in Washington, a state-funded pilot project is building three schools in Western Washington out of CLT for about $1 million each. Mount Vernon’s CLT school was completed last May, and both Maple Valley and Sequim are in the process of building modular schools that will be open in fall. One advantage is that since the panels are prefabricated, the exterior walls of a four-classroom school can be erected in one day.

Joe Mayo of   reports that studies have shown that wood has a therapeutic effect on learning, reducing stress and calming because of its warmth and relaxing effect.

Washington’s working forests are among the world’s healthiest and managed sustainably.  This means we can count on the environmental, economic and even the health benefits of wood construction, taking advantage of wood’s natural role as an absorber of carbon from the atmosphere after which the carbon is stored in solid lumber.

The Washington Forest Protection Association is a trade association representing private forest landowners in Washington State. Members are large and small companies, individuals and families who grow, harvest and re-grow trees on about 4 million acres.