If years of playing Jenga have taught me anything, it’s that towers built from wood have a tendency to collapse in spectacular fashion. Still, as most construction companies realise that new floors are best constructed from new materials, you can be reasonably confident that the same fate won’t befall Sumitomo Forestry’s upcoming project: the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper.
The 350-metre tall building is planned to coincide with the company’s 350th birthday – which means construction would complete in 2041. The tower will use 185,000 cubic metres of timber, costing an estimated 600 billion yen (or around £4 billion) – though the company hopes that prices will come down a bit by the time production begins. For now, that’s around double the cost of a regular skyscraper of these dimensions.
Built over 70 floors, around 10% of the final building will be steel to boost its structural strength against earthquakes, but it’s the wooden majority which makes it environmentally appealing. Buildings made from concrete and steel are estimated to be responsible for up to 8% of all our global emissions – while wood locks carbon away.
Your first instinct upon reading this might be to worry about fire safety, but the prevalence of cross-laminated timber makes this less of an issue, with the material boasting fire-resistant qualities. Japan as a nation seems reasonably okay with the concept, at any rate, passing a law eight years ago forcing companies to use wood for public buildings below three storeys in height.
Although the sky-high price makes wooden skyscrapers offputting for the moment, their time may yet come again. Not only is there the obvious environmental benefit, but wood’s versatility is improving all the time. Just earlier this month, a team from the University of Maryland managed to make wood with the strength of steel, potentially usable in cars, aeroplanes and buildings.