Technology giants Microsoft and Google are turning to wood as the base material for the construction of their new campuses, in Silicon Valley, California. With efforts to find new and more effective ways to lock up carbon, net zero committed companies are beginning to look at wood as “the new concrete” for their building projects.
Architects, developers and promoters are also championing wood as building material, as new technologies are being developed in what’s called “mass timber” production which offers a carbon-cutting alternative to concrete and steel in the building sector. Mass timber is a relatively new building material made of many thick, compressed layers of softwood, usually bound together with adhesive.
Different methods are used to make mass timber into a durable and adaptable construction material, including dowel-laminated (DLT), glue-laminated (Glulam or GLT) beams, laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and nail-laminated timber (NLT). The most promising for large construction projects is cross-laminated timber (CLT).
The prefabricated pieces can be assembled more quickly than in traditional construction. In Google’s Sunnyvale project, the entire superstructure went up in 12 weeks.
Michael Green, a Vancouver (Canada) based architect was the lead designer on Google’s five-storey, 182,000 square-foot facility, expected for completion next year. The project relies primarily on composite wood products, sourced from British Columbia, Canada. Natalie Telewiak, principal architect of the project, said the use of these materials will cut the carbon intensity of the building by 96% compared to traditional concrete and steel.
Microsoft’s new campus, on the other and, will be the largest mass timber project in North America with 644,000 square feet.
“We were excited to use cross-laminated timber (CLT) to construct what will be the largest mass wood structure built to date in the U.S. The benefits of this for carbon footprint reduction are significant. Wood is a renewable product and the timber we used was considered deadwood, already diseased or dying from beetles in their natural habitat. In addition to CLT, many other building materials and processes were chosen to ensure our campus contributed to Microsoft’s operational carbon emissions goal” says the company on its blog.
Currently, the tallest wood building is in Norway: 18 stories high, all built with mass timber. In Finland city planners are working on what is called Wood City, a district in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki, that is a new sustainable urban quarter built for the Helsinki municipal housing developer ATT.