Commercial Construction Has a New Timber Trend

If you haven't heard, timber is the next big thing in commercial construction. Are you on board with this trend (or should you be)? Find out here.

Are you a commercial construction professional looking to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to your latest project? If so, timber construction might be for you.

Since ancient times, timber has been used to build some of the world’s most recognizable and beautiful buildings. And now it’s coming back as an environmentally friendly, commercially viable alternative to concrete.

Here’s everything you need to know for why you should be thinking about timber for future of commercial construction.

Timber – the commercial construction alternative to concrete

Did you know that global concrete consumption is on the rise? In fact, as China continues to expand its infrastructure, as well as urbanize at an incredible rate, plus the latest promises in the US for major infrastructure projects, this trend is only looking to deepen.

And with basic supply and demand, we can all expect concrete to get more expensive as demand hits new highs.

So what does this mean for the commercial construction industry?

It means that there’s more enthusiasm (and pressure) to find an effective alternative. And having lost the benefit of being incredibly easy and cost effective to produce, the threshold of adoption has decreased.

That is, it’s easier for companies to justify trying something new – even if that something has been prohibitively expensive in the past. Hence the expansion of timber into the global commercial construction industry.

Modern advances in wood make timber more attractive for commercial applications

Until recently, timber’s use has been largely restricted to the low-density housing sector, leaving major commercial construction project to the strict purview of concrete and steel.

This is self-evident if you look at skyscraper and high-rise construction over the last 100 years or so.

From the Empire State Building to the Burj Khalifa, large scale commercial construction has been relatively tied to its materials of choice.

Of course, the reason that concrete has been used for thousands of years is that it’s a fantastic material.

Timber is generally seen as not as robust or strong, and with its inability to be cast like you can with concrete, it’s no wonder that its popularity faded in the 1900s in particular to the ease of concrete.

But modern engineering isn’t taking this lying down.

Increasingly, advanced fabrication techniques like nail laminated timber (NLT) are allowing more and more timber to be used in areas where previously, it wouldn’t have been up to code.

For example, NLT has been used in elevator and stair shafts in low and medium density buildings across the world, offering the warmth of wood without sacrificing aesthetic or compromising on environmental concerns, as well as for commercial construction applications like the Mountain Equipment Co-op head office in Vancouver, Canada.

The result is that timber is increasingly not only viable but (as we’re about to see) a desirable alternative to the classic concrete steel duo.

Timber presents unique architectural opportunities

So why the sudden interest?

Timber provides unique architectural opportunities not afforded to other commercial construction materials.

First, there’s the aesthetic you can achieve with wood.

There’s a reason why hardwood floors are such a popular home renovation – people love the natural, warm look of wood.

In conjunction with the technical revolution happening right now in the timber industry, the demand for the look and feel of wood has never been higher.  For example, one of the primary drawcards for ex-factory loft conversions today is large, exposed wooden beams that form the core of the building.

People want the option to live with timber in the city, without having to spend their entire pay cheque on a month of rent.

Plus, there’s increasing evidence of the health benefits of timber, with reports about increasing worker productivity when they can see exposed wood as well as improved mental health and wellness.

With architects and designers building more and more holistically for people (not just for their clients) it’s little wonder timber is increasing popular.

Timber aligns with green building and ecological goals

It’s not all about look, though. With concerns about global warming, global supply chains, and an increasing enthusiasm for green or carbon neutral buildings, architects are naturally turning towards the clean, renewable energy of timber.

After all, it literally grows on trees.

Timber plantations are superb carbon sinks while trees grow to fruition, after which the wood itself makes for an excellent building material for a carbon neutral building.

Why? Lots of reasons!

First, timber is relatively lightweight when you compare it to steel or concrete.

This means that you need less foundation for your building (about 30% less by some counts).

For example, if you build a 40 story building out of a classic steel and concrete frame, you might need a 15 story hole for the foundations.

However, if you build a 40 story building with a timber skeleton, you might only need a 5 story foundation.

This reduction improves the bottom line, makes the greener to build, and streamlines the construction process.

Second, because of advances in 3D printing, laser cutting, and pre-fabrication, timber buildings are presenting an increasingly faster build time than concrete and steel.

While concrete has the flexibility to be poured, because of its weight it's often impossible to cast off-site.

For tight urban construction sites, this usually means that you can only pour, cast, and set a small amount of concrete at a time.

In contrast, timber can be pre-fabricated off-site (where you’ve got the space) and then broken down and shipped flat packed for final construction on-site.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s like high stakes Lego.

Again, this ability to pre-build off site, ship inexpensively, and assemble on-site reduces construction times, reduces costs, and reduces the carbon footprint of the construction process.

Timber is the commercial construction material of the future.

Its renewability, viability, and longevity, extended by modern engineering make it the first choice for green enthusiast and architects.

Its aesthetic, its warmth, and its positive effect on building dwellers make it the first choice for designers.

And it’s ease of implantation, with precision prefabrication, it’s relative weightlessness, and its ability to be flat packed and transported long distances inexpensively make it the first choice for contractors.

All in all, the future of wood looks pretty bright.

Want to know if timber is right for your next construction project? Get in touch and find out about our end to end feasibility services!

About The Author

Hi, we're the Designblendz team! We blend overlapping design disciplines to raise the standard to design, visualize, and build virtual and physical environments.