There has been a lot of talk in recent years about how the future of masterplanning for growing cities and urban populations can be satisfied in conjunction with building practices that are sustainable and have an eye on the environmental impact that we all have on the world. One way in which architects and planners are beginning to deliver on this idea is to look at alternatives to concrete and steel as the primary source for building materials throughout the developed world. It might seem like a backward step, but there is a growing popularity in the movement to bring timber back as a primary construction material, even within large urban areas where space is tight and housing at a premium.
One of the biggest news stories relating to this in the last few months is that of the Heatherwick Studios and Snøhetta announcing plans to build a ‘timber city’ within a development on the Toronto waterfront. This would be the base for Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and would be technology-led and all-timber in nature.
The plan has been announced as a development that overlooks Lake Ontario and will feature 3,000 homes and space for around 4,000 workers. The idea is that the construction will be entirely of timber on the 9.5ha site. With Google’s parent company involved the development will of course be looking to utilise future technologies, with the aim to implement next generation infrastructure systems, including digital electricity, a robot-run underground waste system, and a thermal grid. It is only at a concept stage at this moment in time however, so this future tech-built development might have some tweaks to it before it comes to fruition.
The urban innovation arm of Alphabet, Sidewalk Labs, hopes that the flexible infrastructure will ensure that the physical space is low risk and dynamic as digital space. The idea is that it will provide a completely flexible, business in a box’ service on micro lease terms in the new Quayside neighbourhood.
Moving towards entirely timber structures and cities is an idea that is gaining in popularity the world over, with 18-storey high timber buildings being built in Norway, and even taller timber structures in the planning stages in both Austria and Japan, as an alternative to concrete and steel.
There are several reasons why treated timber is an exciting material that could change the way in which we view construction and the urban developments of the future, especially where space is at a premium and the global population is aiming to reduce its impact on the environment.
Wood is a durable material that is easy to repair and recycle. In the worst-case scenario where wood is no longer usable for maintenance or to make furniture or other items, it can be used as an energy source. Building with treated timber requires less reinforced concrete, reducing the carbon footprint on a construction project significantly. The future cities will be built with lightweight, treated timber that is easy to move and relocate, but maintains a similar level of integrity, rigidity and structural strength as concrete and steel infrastructures.