Goin’ against the grain: Wood is good, but tallwood is beautiful, baby

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Goin’ Against the Grain: Wood Is Good, but Tallwood Is Beautiful, Baby
Al Steele, U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry

“Forests were the first temples of God and in forests men grasped their first idea of architecture.”
― James C. Snyder, Introduction to Architecture

Building large structures with wood isn’t anything new. In Norway and other Scandinavian countries,
massive stave churches go back to 1150 A.D. or earlier. Chinese timber bridges with spans of 200 feet
were built 1,000 years ago. Starting around 600 A.D., the Japanese imported both Buddhism and
pagoda-style houses of worship from China. The 122-foot Horyu-Ji Temple built in 607 A.D. still exists
today. It and hundreds of other pagodas (many taller) have survived centuries of Japan’s earthquakeridden
history.

In more recent times, building with wood has gotten rather boring, with conventional thought being
that wooden buildings were constrained pretty much to four or five stories. As noted in ArchDaily, a
Web site for architects, “Quests for material permanence, taller heights, structural innovation, and new
architectural styles conspired to stem advancements in wood craftsmanship during the last 200 years.
Steel and concrete rose to new heights in European and North American cultural centers during the 19th
and 20th centuries. Meanwhile, wood became associated with lower-grade and lower-cost
construction—buildings of lesser stature, safety and durability. The widespread adoption of concrete
and steel coupled with the enormous manufacturing infrastructure for these materials and building
codes that now favored noncombustible construction led to their dominance, and a general lack of
investigation of other materials.”

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