Building for tomorrow21 March 2009
Dr Thorsten Mrosek, of the German Timber Production Fund, gives an upbeat perspective from Europe’s biggest sawn timber producer
Just imagine that we are living and working in timber buildings featuring state-of-the-art architecture and superior technical design. The building materials are environmentally-friendly, from renewable resources produced in sustainably-managed forests. Our homes are highly energy efficient and actively contribute to climate conservation because they fix carbon. They can last for several hundred years and when their life-span is complete, they can be used to generate energy or they can be recycled. Meanwhile, other forest stands have already grown to be hundreds of years old.
I admit I am looking a long way into the future, but there is a trend in this direction. Sustainable building has become a focal point at international trade shows for the industry, whether it is Ecobuild in London, the BAU in Munich, or the International Builders‘ Show in Las Vegas. The timber industry can support this trend with quality-tested, industrially and technologically-refined modern wood products that consistently meet the standards and requirements for green building.
The global consequences of climate change can no longer be ignored. Raw materials must be used sustainably and CO2 emissions must be drastically reduced. These demands are having a major effect on the building sector as well. The maintenance of buildings consumes large amounts of energy and, as a result, produces considerable emissions of carbon dioxide. Sustainable, environmentally-friendly building methods can significantly reduce these energy demands.
Challenge and opportunity
For the building industry, it is both a challenge and an opportunity to implement the standards of sustainability. The choice of building materials is where that responsibility starts. As a renewable material, and one that locks in carbon, the environmental balance of wood is unparalleled. And it has additional advantages, which I believe will contribute to even greater application:
• quality-tested wood products meet the highest technical demands and product standards. They also exhibit high performance in terms of sound insulation, fire safety and earthquake resistance;
• due to various finishing and installation techniques, contemporary timber building systems are particularly flexible. Thanks to prefabrication, timber structures can be erected in a time-saving, economical way;
• professionally built timber structures retain their longevity and value with relatively little maintenance;
• visible timber structural elements have a special aesthetic value, improving quality of life.
The German sawmill industry reflects how well the wood-based sector responds to the new demands posed by the building market. With an annual production of 22 million m³, it is the largest producer of sawn timber in Europe and has distinguished itself by producing innovative, high-performance timber products for wood construction.
For example, in addition to sawn timber and planed goods, sawn softwood is refined into solid structural timber, (KVH, dried, finger-jointed and planed quality structural timber); glulam beams (Duo/Trio-Beams, two- or three-layered, laminated, finger-jointed timber for high dimensional stability and superior appearance); and glued-laminated timber (glulam/BSH, several layers of glued, finger-jointed timber with high load-bearing capacities).
Modern timber construction
A large number of exemplary projects demonstrate the high performance of timber building materials and the visual diversity created by modern timber construction. The Expo roof in Hannover was built for the World's Exhibition held there in 2000. Its timber roof spans 16,000m². Each of the 10 individual "umbrellas" or canopies consists of four double curved shell surfaces with 19x19m sides and a diagonal span width of 28m. Multi-floored, residential buildings have also been erected in Berlin (seven storeys) and London (nine storeys).
Due to the many advantages of the material, I am sure that projects like these will be realised much more frequently in the future. Because of the leading role of the UK in green and climate-friendly building, its construction market has great potential for innovative wood construction and for modern wood products. The recognition and promotion of timber building projects, for example through the UK Wood Awards, is thriving.
The continued dialogue between the German forest and wood-based industry sector and British architecture and building experts and decision-makers could enhance this positive development even further.
The German Timber Promotion Fund will continue to support this dialogue in the future. Our common goal should be using even more of wood's great potential to surmount our current and future global challenges in order to help society live more sustainably.