New York, New York: Manhattan Trades Steel For Wood Building

Mahattan may be known as building jungle of steel and concrete. But a new 10-story building built almost completely out of wood might begin to break the trend.

Wood buildings ranging from 7-15 stories have been gaining attention around the world with even more ambitious projects, such as this Danish wooden skyscraper, currently under development. The United States has been slow to follow the trend so far, but this is beginning to change.

This week, a design by SHoP Architects for a 10-story condo development in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York won a wood building design competition lead by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A prize of $3 million was shared between this New York project and a co-winning wooden apartment design in Portland, Oregon.

The structural elements of New York’s first wooden condo will be of wood and wood will also clad the walls and many of the interior components. The only major exception is the flooring, which will include a concrete skim coat.

Wood buildings such as this offers numerous advantages as wood has in general a lower carbon footprint as compared to concrete or steel. In recent years, advancements in engineered wood have also made the material more fire resistant and stronger than ever before. Engineering advancements have even made it possible to harvest blue wood from dead trees ravaged by North America’s deadly pine beetle infestation, thus finding a positive use for entire forests of dead trees left to rot.

Wood is also relative inexpensive, easy to build with and energy efficient because of tighter fittings –  plus it also looks and feels great as a building material.

To date, a major obstacle towards building with wood in North America is that building codes generally limit wooden building to six storeys or less. Regulations have been slow to change, despite rapid advancements in the performance of engineered wood materials. This wooden condo project will itself be required to undertake a special building code review by the New York City Department of Building.

Despite the challenges, projects such as this are beginning show that wood is a viable building construction and structural material – even in the Big Apple.