Wood vs. All Other
In an earlier blog, I’d written about a 35-storey tower proposed by Michael Green Architecture for the Reinventer Paris competition, slated to be the tallest wood building in the world. In a sequel to that, I bring you the 13-storey timber tower, the condominium ‘Origine’, designed by Yvan Blouin, in Quebec’s Pointe-aux- Lièvres eco-district, the tallest of its kind in North America. The star of the show? Cross-laminated Timber (CLT). Being built by Nordic Structures, who write that it is “A long time in the making, the project has drawn on input from federal and provincial officials as well as research institutes, and will help pave the way for the development of a North American market for solid wood building products made in Quebec.” Experts wait with bated breaths as they wonder what the acceptance of such a structure would be, a complete departure for the usual steel and concrete. And jokes are exchanged on how the fire authorities are still not convinced that it needs no protection with drywall!
Home to the nascent cross-laminated timber industry, Quebec is replete with sustainably managed forests that feed the industry, which, along with other mass timber technologies will hopefully allow more such structures to be built with the renewable resources that pack away carbon for the life of the building. Now, what exactly does ‘packs away carbon…’ actually mean to us?
Trees and plants have the unique ability to convert the residues of burst fossil fuel (mostly C02 and Methane) into carbon-rich cellulose and sugars through photosynthesis, giving out the much-required and replenishing oxygen as a by-product. The wonder of nature. Why cut down trees then, you might ask. Well, here comes the techniques of ‘sustainable forest management’ that ensures that no overcrowding occurs, that forests are maintained so that individual trees receive enough light and air for sustainable growth, and that saplings are planted to replenish the harvested trees. When trees are harvested and used in the manufacture of wood products, the carbon that comprises 50% of the dry weight of wood remains stored in it for the life of the product. The remaining mill waste from processing has various uses such as providing sawdust for the manufacture of engineered wood products and biomass for renewable energy production.
The carbon will only ever be released back into the atmosphere when it is burnt or decayed. Isn’t it much better, then, that carbon remains stored in trees and wood products rather than being released into the atmosphere, where it would contribute to climate change? It has been shown over the years of dealing with global warming (the process where greenhouse gases trap infrared radiation in the atmosphere and cause the earth to warm) that building long-lasting, efficient, and durable homes and other wood products helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For framing in our homes, this carbon storage has a life of around 100 years, around 30 years in furniture, 30 years in railroad ties and around 6 years in pallets and paper.
The observation from Michael Green, who designed the Wood Innovation and Design Centre, Prince George, BC, that the structure would not be the tallest North American Wood Building for long has rung true. Since climate change is the main factor behind the rise of wood as a competitive rival to concrete and steel, the typical energy-consuming components of taller buildings, Mr. Green likens the shift to adopting healthy eating habits.
“What we want to do is reduce the things that we know aren’t good for us, like steel and concrete, but that doesn’t mean we get rid of them completely,” he says. “We are just reproportioning these materials in buildings and not trying to say that one is exclusive over another.”
Originally developed in Europe over 10 years ago, cross-laminated timber, an engineered wood product, is now manufactured in Canada, in various panel thicknesses of 2×6 planks that are glued cross-wise, pre-cut and assembled onsite for speed and efficiency. Today, architects also use laminated veneer lumber (thin strips glued together), the warp-free composite laminated strand lumber and glue laminated timber, an established product known for its steel-rivaling strength and used for horizontal beams or vertical columns.
As we move into the new dawn of sustainable living, daylighting deserves a strong push. We all know that natural light I softer than electric light and that it comes completely free of charge, transforming living spaces to look spacious and sophisticated, while ensuring savings on electricity bills. But while sunlight offers numerous benefits, including being a natural disinfectant, it does have a few detrimental effects as well – homes that have an excess of windows built in the east and west orientations collect excessive heat gains in the summer, heating up interiors undesirably, even with windows left open, predisposing residents to turn up the coolers, consuming large amounts of energy. Also, the UV rays from the sun cause unrepairable damage to furnishing, artwork and the human skin. The passive tanning the northern hemisphere is famous for is also a precursor to the dreaded melanoma, which, if we were to go by statistics, is on the rise.
Sustainability in the Manufacture of Wood Blinds
Wood Blinds (a seemingly traditional internal window shading device, going by its long history) are responsibly manufactured by enterprises like Graber Blinds and Norman, using the North American Bass and Paulownia Wood, crafted in North America, cutting down on the costs and challenges of transporting wood. Grown and maintained in collaboration with foresters who practise sustainable forest management, bass and paulownia are hardwoods, light yet durable in the extreme, lending classy finesse to blinds in that each slat derives its own individuality in terms of patterns and textures, allowing decorators to use them to blend seamlessly into homes with a lot of wooden elements in them, or stand out in natural splendor in a setting that’s carpeted and upholstered. The blinds are made to custom, sporting a variety of natural tints and dyes that complies with GreenGuard measures of clean indoor air quality. The vanes of blinds can be tilted to any desired angle to deflect glare, maximize daylight, or to close tight to provide absolute privacy. Motorized vanes in blinds allow them to be programmed to open and close according to requirements based on the intensity of the sun, also making it endlessly convenient for users to control the vanes remotely. Experts advocate the use of motorized window shading in conjunction with other automated home systems, allowing users tax credits as well. Though wood blinds tend to be expensive, retailers offer great offers every so often to make them available to a wide demography, decimating the elitist tag attached to wood blinds. What better option to use in these times of responsible energy sufficiency!