Around the world, in places ranging from Japan to British Columbia, a new culture of wood is emerging. Many municipalities have begun turning to wood as a first choice for publicly-funded buildings. The ‘Wood First’ initiative in British Columbia requires the use of wood as the primary building material in all new provincially funded buildings, while Japan’s ‘Promotion of Wood Usage in Public Buildings’ Act is designed to expand the market for wood products in public buildings like schools and hospitals. Quebec, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Hackney County, UK all have similar laws.
Why wood? For British Columbia, one of the most heavily forested areas of the world, it makes economic sense as well as being environmentally friendly. B.C. has a large lumber industry, and incidentally, ships a lot of its wood products to Japan, making their wood-first laws mutually beneficial. B.C. has revised its building code to allow for up to six stories of wood frame construction, and has committed to building a new Wood Innovation and Design Center to highlight the capabilities of this sustainable material.
One example of the ways in which wood is now being incorporated into Japanese architecture is a unique 5-story, fire-resistant apartment building. Planned for Setagaya City in Tokyo, the building features a reinforced concrete structure with beautiful wooden lattice exterior walls that will be visible from the street.
Wood is strong, lightweight, organic, natural and renewable. Carbon storage in the wood itself, as it grows in well-managed forests, helps offset the energy required to create wood building products. Wood buildings have proven to be seismically safe, which makes them even more desirable in places like quake-prone Japan. Wood is also cost-effective, and in places where it’s easily sourced locally, like the Northeastern United States, it’s an even more environmentally friendly choice.
While the United States has yet to enact any such laws, the growing prominence of LEED-certified green building construction places wood at the forefront of a range of sustainable building materials.
Main photo: The Whistler Public Library in British Columbia