Wood innovation shaping tomorrow’s cities
With half of the world’s population now living in urban areas, the latest data show that the future’s smart, sustainable cities will have to shelter around 6 billion people by 2050. This is already changing the way urban areas are designed and built.
Photo: Action training school in Edinburgh
In an attempt to help cities to cut their carbon footprint, the wood industry is moving towards massive timber buildings fit for all purposes.
Reinforced wood, or cross-laminated timber (CLT), is an innovative approach to engineering the properties of timber. It makes wood even more resilient and lighter than steel and concrete so that it can be used in any buildings, no matter the size.
CLT is based on large, wooden panels made of planks placed on top of one another and glued together. The panels are then cut and resized using computer software in order to fit any measurements. Construction is much faster because the panels are prefabricated. And, besides being a good insulator, building with reinforced wood helps to reduce a city’s carbon footprint.
But, despite the gains it brings, existing technology has yet to break into the global market.
Led by Prof. Richard Harris (University of Bath, UK), COST Action FP1004 brought together specialists from different timber engineering communities working on perfecting wood. “We realised the industry was blooming, but research was patchy”, Prof. Harris points out. “We wanted to help boost the use of massive wood in design and construction all over Europe”.
Using and designing with massive wood translates into very high-quality buildings, very quickly. “It is vital that engineers have a good understanding of how massive wood behaves”, Prof. Harris adds.
By linking around 200 research projects in over 20 European countries, the network identified all state-of-the-art massive wood technologies and published a best practice guide on ways to enhance the properties of wood-based products and improve the performance of connections and timber structures.
Photo: Action training school in Lund
Early-career researchers had a leading role in the four-year project, organising three main conferences on different challenges in the field. Some of the research presented focused on bridges and ways to ensure their durability, stability and ways to protect their structure, given weather conditions.
These conferences saw young researchers from two COST-funded networks present their research and exchange expertise on building and repair techniques, especially in the case of architectural heritage.
Ms Biljana Stojanovic (St Cyril & Methodius University) had a short-term stay at Contemporary Building Design, a company in Ljubljana. “It enhanced my experience in CLT structures, their production, design and construction, which will contribute to my Master’s dissertation research and to better comparisons between the European and national standards”, she adds.
The Action also managed to attract several industry representatives, especially at the conference on CLT techniques held in Graz, Austria.
Several Action members are part of code-writing committees across Europe, some of which set a four-storey limit to wooden buildings. Their work will also help revise the existing European standards in wood buildings. The work of both FP1004 and FP1101 was also discussed as part of the International Network for Timber Engineering Research (INTER) - a forum for presenting and discussing research related to codes and standards.
Sharing expertise also meant researchers learned techniques used in different scenarios, such as seismic activity or extreme weather conditions. Currently, Action FP1404 is researching ways of dealing with fire in "green" buildings. “Although working on a different topic, this new network has benefitted from the close community we built through FP1004 and FP1101. Exposing young minds to all these technologies adds to their confidence in building with wood”, Prof. Harris added.