M POWER SPEAKER SERIES: WHY WE BUILD WITH WOOD

M POWER SPEAKER SERIES: WHY WE BUILD WITH WOOD

An introduction to the next Brian Jessel M Power Series speaker

September 8, 2016
By Julianna Sonntag

Photo: Sheldon Coxford
Source: Vancouver Magazine

On September 13, architect Michael Green will sit down with Vancouver magazine’s editorial director Anicka Quin to talk about why design matters and how it relates to creating a sustainable future. VanMag recently spoke to Green about his innovative building designs to get a glimpse on what will be discussed in greater detail next week.

Why do you design with wood?
There’s a huge range of reasons—all of equal importance—but depending on the audience they each carry their own sort of significance. Natural materials resonate more for the human species as we’ve naturally evolved to live around natural materials. I prefer wood as it’s a great neutralizer of design. Whether you like traditional things or more modern things, for some reason when built with wood, the range of people’s interest and acceptance of the design is broadened. I also choose to build in wood as it is the most environmentally sound and carbon-neutral way to build large structures and buildings.

What is the relationship between building with wood and reducing carbon dioxide emissions?
One cubic metre of wood stores one ton of carbon dioxide. When a tree grows it soaks up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and gives us oxygen. If you let that tree rot or burn it gives off all that CO2 back into the atmosphere. However, if you use the wood for something like a building, you are storing that carbon dioxide for as long as that building exists. You are also hopefully replanting the forest properly with younger trees, which effectively soak up CO2 faster than older trees, thus creating a cycle.

Is there less longevity when building with wood? Does it not begin to decompose or rot in a way that concrete and steel would not?
Steel rusts and concrete falls apart over time and yes, wood can as well if it is not well maintained, but same is true for all those materials. The principle of how to build a wood building is that you protect the wood walls. When we design these buildings we know that and we design for it.

Is a wooden building really safe? Isn’t a wooden structure more susceptible to fire?
About 85 percent of Canadians live in wood frame housing and most of them don’t go off to work assuming that their house will burn down by the time they come home. We need to step back and use science, not emotion, in the way that we think about buildings. We have to understand that yes, wood burns but heavy timber buildings behave much more like steel or concrete. I try to remind people that if you want to start a fire, you start with paper, then add some small pieces of wood, and eventually you put on the big log. The buildings we build are like the log; you can’t take a lighter and try to catch a log on fire, it won’t work. That is effectively what we’re building with, large pieces of wood that are very stable and don’t behave like small pieces of wood. We design with the science, not the emotion.

What is the largest wooden building you have designed to date?
The largest would probably be the [Minneapolis] T3, built in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It just finished construction. The tallest would be the Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George. We do, however, have designs for taller buildings in Portland, potentially North Vancouver, and in Paris.

Do you think that there will be a time in the coming future where wood buildings will be more commonplace?
Wood buildings are already becoming much more common. The future is now, without a doubt.