Remember that treehouse you loved when you were younger? Now it’s a luxury apartment building.
On Thursday, US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the winners of this year’s US Tall Wood Building Prize Competition.
Once they’re completed, the new apartments could model a future where we rely on environmentally-friendly wood instead of cement and steel to construct our buildings.
The winning designs are both made entirely out of mass timber, a dense wood that’s resistant to fire, earthquakes, wind, and other elements. When mass timber burns, the outside chars rather than combusts. Heavy vibrations act more forcefully on heavy materials over light ones, making the lightweight wood actually safer than bulky steel in the event of seismic activity.
Portland, Oregon-based firm The Framework Project, LLC and New York City-based 130-134 Holdings LLC will split the $US3 million prize money to turn their designs into reality, though no specific timelines have been released.
Here is the winning 10-story design in New York City, to be constructed in Chelsea.
The design in Portland, Oregon, is slated to become a 12-story multi-service office building, public space, and workforce apartment complex.
Using wood as the primary building material doesn’t just make for a chic space to live and work in. It creates jobs, too.
“The U.S. wood products industry is vitally important as it employs more than 547,000 people in manufacturing and forestry, with another 2.4 million jobs supported by US private-forest owners,” said Vilsack in a press statement.
Timber-built buildings also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by storing carbon in their walls and frame. The apartment design at the New York City building (475 West 18th), for example, is poised to reduce energy consumption by 50% compared to typical buildings.
The materials are also completely renewable, unlike synthetic building materials that come in limited supply.
But surprisingly, chopping down thousands of trees to erect fancy places to live doesn’t contribute to the ongoing deforestation problem — for two reasons.
Deforestation is the planned destruction of forests for non-forest uses, such as land development. Wood buildings rely on these forests for future use, so the goal is to continually restock specific forests, not chop them down for good.
Much of the wood that’s used during construction is also wood that otherwise has no use — mostly because it is low-grade lumber that has been devastated by insects and disease. Once it’s treated and becomes cross-laminated timber — a strong lumber prized for its durability — it can serve well as a building material.
The two winning proposals earned the distinction after a panel of judges decided both designs met the contest’s criteria of being safe, practical, sustainable, and a minimum of 80 feet high.
Unlike that treehouse from back in the day, neither design requires a ladder to get in.
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