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"Timber will not save us and concrete will not end us" says commenter

Dezeen's Timber Revolution series, which ran throughout March, garnered more than 350,000 views and ignited the comments section. We round up the best of the debate.

Sloppiness and misinformation are threatening to prevent large-scale wood construction from reaching its full potential, argued Hermann Kaufmann – the "grandfather of mass timber" – in an exclusive interview with Dezeen. Readers were quick to comment.

"This business of architecture is almost always dictated by trends, as it is with interior, furniture, fashion, product design etc," reflected Romeo Reyes. "Currently, one of the hottest craze is the use of wood/timber – an ancient building material enjoying a measured renaissance of a sort."

Hermann Kaufmann has designed notable timber buildings including Schmuttertal secondary school (photo by Stefan Müller-Naumann)

"Architecture is almost always dictated by trends"

"Surprisingly, the usability of this material in the modern world is still not a convenient vehicle to create something fashionably trendy, but more of greenwashing opportunity," Reyes continued. "Who knows when this fad may soon be just a passing fancy?"

BigBull43 thought that "architects, engineers and the construction industry will give up on 'mass-usage' of timber when it becomes prohibitively expensive. Reinforced concrete will continue in its reign supreme. Kaufmann has said it all. What is there to add?"

"There is, of course, an excessive use of wood and, thus, mass timber in these times," commented Pa Varreon. "The fashionable abuse of it is perhaps one of the reasons – whatever the decarbonization pretexts are – that we'll realise that in a world of several billion people the protection of forests is a vital issue."

Jacopo  was keen to stress "there is a limit to renewable resource; they need to be used in a reasonable quantity. The land loses nutrients, and the land is limited, so, overall, renewable doesn't mean unlimited in an X period. Abuse of resource for projects that could be done differently with another type of material is still wrong."

They concluded "differentiation of limited and unlimited resources should be our religion, not blindly wasting the renewable because we expect them to be in infinite quantity."

What's your view on the future of timber? Join the discussion ›

The Regenerative high-rise by Haptic
The Regenerative High-Rise is a concept for a hybrid timber tower. Visual is by Forbes Massie

"Maybe the limitations of timber and CLT are a good thing"

Dezeen asked mass-timber experts about the ongoing race to build ever-taller wooden buildings.

"For most buildings, tall timber does not make sense," said Arup fellow Andrew Lawrence. "Timber's natural home is low-rise construction," he told Dezeen. Commenters were broadly in agreement.

Zea Newland concurred, saying "given how there are more resources needed to build and maintain tall buildings, we should slowly phase out this building type anyway."

"There are many good reasons to shift the focus of construction to sustainable affordable housing instead of building more prestigious displays of power and wealth," they continued. "Maybe the inherent limitations of timber and CLT are a good thing."

A pithy and philosophical contribution to the debate came from Whateverandeveramen: "just because you can, doesn't mean you should."

For Jane the solution is holistic. "As ever, to suggest one material as the answer is to miss – and worse still divert from – realisable answers. Use timber, stone, steel, concrete, glass, aluminium and so on. In balance, the overall can be carbon negative," they commented.

How do you feel about high-rise timber projects? Join the discussion ›

"We can't detox our built environment by swapping out fossil-fuelled building materials for timber"

"Timber will not save us and concrete will not end us"

Readers responded to an opinion piece by Smith Mordak that argued the way we build must fundamentally shift to harmonise with tree and carbon cycles.

Le Weeb contested that "there is plenty of wood to build all needed new structures, with well-managed forest resources."

But Charles Roig agreed with Mordak that "wood consumption needs to be utilized on a schedule that allows it to be consumed at, or below, the same pace as it is grown."

Colin MacGillivray advocated positively for continuing to build with timber, asking "surely when we build with timber, it locks up carbon until the building is demolished and the timber burnt? So if the timber building is in place for centuries, it is worthwhile."

"The big challenge is on our infrastructure: we simply cannot build highways and dams out of timber and this is where the biggest volume of concrete is used," contributed Arthur Mamou-Mani.

Felipe Sierra doesn't think there is one solution, commenting "we should have in mind that we grow plants in order to eat, this is not so different than growing trees in order to build our homes. If we look at the alternatives, wood stands out as a great material to overcome the climate challenge. However, we need a balanced diet. We need to use steel, concrete, glass and other carbon-intensive materials."

Tony365 was less concerned about materials, claiming that "timber will not save us and concrete will not end us. Building with salvaged materials and making sure our structures are recyclable would be a good start."

What do you think? Join the discussion ›

Catalyst building by Katerra
Mass timber "definitely not the right way to go" says Benjamin Kromoser

"Maybe it's time for the earth-building revolution?"

Commenters piled in below the line of this interview with construction material expert Benjamin Kromoser who claims mass timber will not become a mainstream building product because it uses too much wood.

Paul was happily capitalist (or perhaps sarcastic) when they commented "good business, that's all that matters, then and now".

Daniel Schofield also thought the conversation could be focussed elsewhere, asking "perhaps a more relevant discussion would be on the lifespan of our buildings and their preservation? Or how can we repurpose existing buildings rather than tearing them down?"

"Waiting for the day that someone, perhaps Elon himself, suggests we simply stack used-Tesla battery packs like bricks and build houses that way," quipped Wyriwyg.

Gytis Bickus was upvoted a handful of times for suggesting "maybe it's time for the earth-building revolution? Definitely won't run out of that."

Viva la revolución! Join the discussion ›

Comments update

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