Timber to the rescue: is the future of housing wooden?


Reference:CGTN | Updated:30 Aug 2021

Could a return to wooden houses save Europe from climate disaster? That's what one European expert exclusively told CGTN Europe. 

Recent months have confirmed the existence of a climate crisis for many, with floods, fires and other extreme weather around the world blamed on humanity's impact on Earth's environment.

In Europe the variety in climate, soil and culture means there is no single method that can help reduce the effect of climate change on communities. 

Not only do communities face different issues - from floods in Germany and the Netherlands, to extreme heat and fires in southern regions like Italy and France - but there is little in the way of an international agreement on building the future.

But Jorick Beijer, CEO and founder of housing consultancy firm Blossity based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, told CGTN Europe timber could be a solution for the continent and the world. 

"It's layered wood and incredibly strong and it's very sustainable. And from an environmental point of view, it's so much more sustainable than using steel or concrete," Beijer explained. 

He's talking about Cross-Laminated Timber, or CLT. 

This complex-sounding product is actually very simple. In fact, if you have a desk or chair made of wood in your house or apartment, the chances are it's made of CLT. Layers of wood are placed over each other, perpendicular to the layer below, and glued. 

It's already being used in many international housing projects, and its strength and versatility are shown by Alison Brooks Architects "The Smile" project.  

Because it's much lighter than traditional materials like concrete, it can be used in different settings and environments equally effectively. 

"You can build a light structure at seven to eight stories high, to create a very good scale for the community, so it's not too high," Beijer said. 

"From an environmental point of view, it's so much more sustainable than using steel or concrete because the sheer emissions that you need to create concrete are enormous. And so wood is a very sustainable material if you use it from sustainably planted trees," he added. 

Along with using wood, Blossity's leader believes in a new type of housing structure. 

"We need to develop a new "mid-high" building typology. And I think the discussion has been too black and white on urban styles versus skyscrapers and high rise. I think there is a good argument to make for a new style, which would be around six to eight and floor-high typology," Beijer explained. 

Where to build?

"There is a general housing crisis which is being made even more complicated by this current climate crisis. That is a big, big challenge for the next couple of years," Beijer said. 

One ongoing discussion is where to build - before the materials and design is considered, a location must be secured. 

Both Blossity and the UK's Center for Alternative Technology (CAT) agree that urban living is the future. 

In a recent article, the CAT simply suggested searching for a location that means you don't have to use your car, as bicycle and public transport links are convenient. 

But Beijer and Blossity's vision is more ambitious. They think future housing projects should take a lesson from the campus style of student living. 

"Cities definitely in the 20th century had a lot of functional segregation. You work here, you live there, you go there if you want to go out," Beijer explained. 

"So we're working in parallel on campus transformations, on environments that have a strong environmental component, but will increasingly be mixed with residential. So in the future, these areas will be very vibrant, very dynamic areas where people can live, work, learn."

But these solutions also need to be flexible - like the problem of climate change, the answer is multifaceted. 

"We see Europe, even though we think it's a big continent, it has so many different hyper-local differences when it comes to the impact of climate change.

"You need to be hyper-local when we think of strategies to cope with these kind of problems," Beijer said.  

Beijer works all over the world, but is based and grew up in the Netherlands. So it's not surprising he's hyper-aware of the climate risk to many Dutch cities. He explained many were built land protected by the country's extensive dike system. 

LOOK Use the left and right arrows to see the timber and glass Hotel Jakarta. 

But it's also where architects are putting their money where their mouth is, and building new structures from wood. 

Hotel Jakarta is the newest addition to Amsterdam's waterfront. Located on the Java island, on the river IJ which splits the city, the hotel is made of wood and glass - it's even energy neutral. 

Its location and name hark back to the Netherlands' trading company activity in Asia in the 18th century, but with its building material and "green" credentials, it's showing the way for future builders.

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