By Eve Picker
As the creation of affordable and sustainable housing becomes increasingly urgent, focus has shifted to innovative ways to meet these goals. I found one such example in Amsterdam where Marc Koehler and his design team develop creative solutions for urban living through their Superlofts Project. Broadly speaking, a Superlofts project starts with the bare structural frame of the building. Each future resident designs her own home, which is then inserted into that framework, making a vertical village. This interactive process is a rather wonderful flexible and community-centric model for the creation of urban co-living.
Not satisfied with creating just a flexible living model, Marc’s team also strives to improve the sustainability of each of their projects. One way they are considering this it to move towards heavy timber construction. Their first timber project is already under development – a six-story building in the Netherlands. This push highlights the growing awareness of the benefits of engineered wood materials even for large-scale projects.
The benefit of using timber
For Marc, the two primary benefits of building with timber are flexibility and sustainability. The Superlofts vision is intended to offer flexibility in the design and configurations of buildings. Using timber adds to that goal, since timber construction makes it far easier to alter the configuration of a building. Wood is easily adaptable and can be reconfigured with minimal costs.
By contrast, concrete structures limit changes in unit and building configurations, making it more difficult to offer changes to living arrangements as families grow (or contract). By transitioning from concrete to timber, Marc believes his projects will become more like a Tetris game, with living spaces that can easily be connected and reconnected in a multitude of ways. This flexibility reduces waste and makes future adjustments far more efficient.
Simply put, building with timber is a sustainable practice. First, unlike many building materials, wood is organic – a natural material. This means that it is non-toxic and ages naturally. Second, it’s a renewable building material. As long as more trees are planted to replace those that are used, it serves as a renewable resource. Third, wood stores carbon dioxide, which otherwise would be released into the atmosphere. This means that as long as the timber is being used, it’s retaining that carbon dioxide, stopping it from being added to the atmosphere. Lastly, because wood is a good insulator, using it leads to more energy efficient buildings.
How tall can timber buildings be?
It has long been imagined that wood construction was limited to just a few stories. It’s so light and flexible that it’s generally not considered for taller buildings, which are more typically constructed of steel and concrete. However, engineering innovations are quickly producing wood products that have greater structural integrity, leading to a wave of new, tall heavy timber designs.
On the other side of the world, in Toronto, Sidewalk Labs has developed a digital proof-of-concept for a 35-story all-wood building. The design incorporates cross-brace frames, a technique often used in high-rise construction, along with cross-laminated timber beams. By using structural, diamond-shaped supports on the exterior, additional space is freed up on the interior. To keep the building from rocking, the design does have a steel mass damper, but this is the only non-wood component used in the structure.
Superlofts’ vision for mass timber is all-embracing. Marc and his team realize that timber today not only has the structural integrity needed to build larger structures along with its important sustainability features, but it also provides the potential to easily adapt a building during its lifetime. And that is something they are interested in exploring.
To learn more about why and how Marc is using timber in his new project, listen to our podcast interview here.
Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay