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Construction: Is wood the material of the future?

Numerous professionals from the sector have debated at REBUILD 2021, in Madrid, about the future of construction.

More and more architects, designers and contractors choose wood as a material to build their projects. Several top-ranked housing societies have used wood for its interior, for instance, Nova City. The industrialized derivatives of wood offer solid structures, good thermal behavior and other advantages that meet the energy objectives required by regulations. 

According to figures from the Spanish Forest Technology Platform (PTFOR), in the next ten years, the demand for wood will grow by around 25% in Europe. In any case, the first stumbling block for wood to be used as much as steel or concrete is its high price.

Why wood is going to be increasingly important in construction “The price of concrete has grown a lot due to CO₂ emission rights. The cost differences between building with wood and with concrete are going to be reduced”, advanced Sandra Llorente, general technical director of Lignum Tech, during the conference When our forests change the future of our industry. A new production chain: one of the talks held at REBUILD 2021 that we have attended since the magazine was written. 

ABATHON

Let us now take a little perspective to understand why the debate on wood as an alternative to concrete and steel is more alive than ever.

Sustainability, circular economy, energy efficiency, and sustainable use of resources. We are talking about concepts that are already defining the construction sector. 

It is in this context that wood is becoming a precious commodity. According to the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management, using wood instead of other materials saves an average of 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per cubic metre.

Albert Brito Architecture

“In addition, to respect what was signed in the Paris Agreements [international treaty on climate change], we will have no choice but to use wood,” assured Llorente, mentioning precisely that the Olympic village for the 2024 Paris Games is going to be an eight-storey building entirely built of wood.

The truth is that the figures also agree with those who predict a promising future for wood construction: world production of the main wood products has grown exponentially since the global economic crisis of 2008-2009, according to the FAO. Spain is not an exception, although there is work to be done to place ourselves at the level of France, Germany or the Nordic countries.

In September, during the celebration of REBUILD 2021 in Madrid, several initiatives were seen, both from the private and public sectors, to value wood in our country, especially in Galicia, a region that produces 50% of our wood.

INDI Architecture

The ARUME public interest foundation or the FORTRAN project stands out, based on blockchain technology, which integrates all the actors in the wood production process to certify that the wood consumed comes from sustainable forests.

“You have to respond to the needs of society. It is now when we have to offer sustainable materials, and the forestry industry has to position itself as the epicentre of the bioeconomy”, pointed out José Ignacio Lema, director of Xera, the Galician forestry industry agency of the Xunta de Galicia, during the conference Designing the future with sustainable wood.

Myths (and non-myths)

“Wood is not only a renewable, reusable, recyclable and biodegradable material, but it also provides healthier environments physically and psychologically, as well as being the best thermal insulator”, said Ismael Olveira, director of Savia Madera Maciza at FINSA and architect of the ARUME foundation, at the conference When our forests change the future of our industry.

All this is true, but there are stumbling blocks for wood to become the material of the future. For example, architects know that the subject of humidity seems uncontrollable; builders that effective and resistant concrete is still profitable – in 2021, concrete costs about €140/m2 and wood €200/m2–; and consumers are aware of the fact that the massive felling of forests is causing the deforestation of the planet.

The Working Queen – Architecture and Interior Design

Added to this are other traditional disadvantages of wood: fire and acoustics. “The industry is already prepared to use wood as a structural element. A wood project requires the excellence and total professionalism of the agents involved. With these premises, reluctance is overcome”, said the architect Antonio José Lara, speaker at the talk New architecture with wood. Towards the decarbonization of construction.

Puig + Payá architects

As for caring for the planet, all agents and prescribers are clear: wood will only be the material of the future if sustainable wood is used. For example, certificates such as PEFC or FSC have gained strength in recent years: certificates are synonymous with living forests, care and sustainable forest management. 

“The sustainability of wood has been questioned. By betting on wood and sustainable forest management, there will be more trees”, points out Gonzalo Anguita, executive director of FSC Spain.

In this sense, leading companies in the sector, such as Egoin, are already betting on native KM0 woods. “We are building schools out of wood. Healthy and respectful constructive solutions”, he told in the talk Designing the future with sustainable wood; Unai Gorroño: CEO of a company that has just opened a plant in Álava that produces cross-laminated wood (CLT).

The future of wood

The future of the construction sector goes through digitization and industrialization: two of the main themes at REBUILD 2021. Without a doubt, the material of the future will be one that knows how to respond to these needs. 

In this context, wood has a lot to say thanks to its technified and laminated derivatives, such as OSB (oriented strand board), CLT (Cross Laminated Timber), PSL (Long Fiber Reconstituted Wood) or LSL (Large Chip Reconstituted Wood).

Using specialized wood products allows building strong, stable structures and brings expressiveness to buildings. Prefabricated modular buildings made of wood and components reduce waste and streamline construction processes.

In addition, the European Union is committed to wood construction with financing lines. For example, LIFE Lugo + Biodinámico, a European project promoted by the Lugo city council for the creation of an ecological neighborhood that includes Impulso Verde (in the image): the first public building in Spain built entirely with wood from here.

The Working Queen – Architecture and Interior Design

“If the 19th century was that of steel as a construction material and the 20th century was that of concrete, the 21st century will be that of wood. The work of architects is essential for wood to be the future material. In architecture schools, only concrete and steel are emphasized. We have to educate future architects in wood”, says Lara.

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