Today’s Solutions: November 30, 2022

Back in 2019, we introduced you to the world’s tallest wooden building in Finland. Today, we’d like to take you across the border to Skelleftea, in Sweden, where wood is regaining popularity as the go-to material for new buildings.

A few months ago, the Swedish town actually became home to the world’s second tallest skyscraper made of wood. Standing at a height of 75 meters, the 20-story Sara Cultural Center is yet another addition to the city’s growing collection of wooden structures.

“Everyone thought that we were a little bit crazy proposing a building like this in timber,” says architect Robert Schmitz. “But we were quite pragmatic, so we said that if you can’t make everything in timber, then we can at least do some of it that way. But during the design process, we all came out and said that it’s more efficient to build everything in timber.”

How can wood make the construction industry greener?

In 2019, the building sector was responsible for 38 percent of total energy-related carbon emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Meanwhile, cement (concrete’s main ingredient) is attributed to 8 percent of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Replacing concrete with wood can significantly slash that carbon footprint.

The switch to wood makes sense, particularly in Sweden which has the largest share of forest cover in Europe. The new cultural center in Skelleftea is made from more than 12,000 cubic meters of wood sustainably sourced from forests just 60km from the town. According to the architects behind the project, the skyscraper will sequester nine million kilograms of CO2 in its lifetime.

But wood is not the only thing that’s making the skyscraper a sustainability model. The structure also boasts solar panels that supply it with power and store excess energy in the basement.

The skyscraper communicates with surrounding buildings

Another feature that makes the cultural center stand out is its ability to “communicate” with nearby structures and distribute excess electricity when they need it. “It analyses the building’s energy usage, and it can make decisions on how we should run it based on available energy levels,” says Patrik Sundberg from local energy firm Skelleftea Kraft.

According to Sundberg, over time, the building will know exactly how much energy it needs. “We have an AI system to help the skyscraper make these decisions every minute, 24/7.”

Isn’t it good, Swedish wood?

For more than 100 years, Sweden had banned wooden homes above two stories high. Now —with manufacturers able to make ultra-strong wood that is lightweight, durable, and fire-resistant — wood is the material of choice in the country.

“For all buildings up to eight stories high, the question is not whether it’s possible to do it in wood. You should ask why we should not do it in wood,” says architect Tomas Alsmarker, CEO of Nyréns Arkitektkontor.

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