Not so long ago, the idea of a skyscraper or a car made almost entirely out of wood might have sounded a bit ridiculous. Yet new record-breaking tall timber architectural projects are underway around the world, and engineers in Japan are working on a working wooden concept car that will debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Meanwhile, scientists are developing a host of wood-based wonder materials.
We now have wood that’s made bulletproof and fireproof through densification. The University of Stuttgart put wood through a fairly simple process of lignin removal and compression for a water-resistant result that’s also capable of passively shedding heat, reflecting sunlight and warmth to naturally lower the temperature of a building’s interiors. Wood-based plastics could make it possible to enjoy all of the benefits of plastic without the environmental harm. Wood can even be used for 3D printing, or transformed into a totally transparent alternative to glass.
All of this is just the beginning. Thanks to recent advancements in engineered wood, we’ll likely see even more innovation making use of this treasured resource in the near future. But that doesn’t mean we should be worried about the fate of our forests. As long as the wood is sustainably grown and harvested in well-managed forests, rising demand for wood products is actually a good thing because it encourages landowners to devote large tracts of acreage to timber production instead of clear-cutting forests for other business ventures, like real estate.
Responsible logging practices make sure forests managed for production of wood products contribute to healthy ecosystems while maintaining a steady supply. That translates to more (preferably mixed-species) forests that can function as wildlife habitat, recreation lands and – crucially – carbon sinks in between harvest cycles.
Check out some of the super-tall wooden structures currently under construction, including an entire “wooden skyscraper city” in Sweden, a timber high-rise in Toronto and the world’s tallest skyscraper planned for Tokyo in our architecture category.