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Is cross laminated timber the future of sustainable architecture?

Some believe that cross laminated timber (CLT) is green enough to save the world - but will the industry answer the call?


If you’ve ever seen a building built with cross laminated timber (CLT), you’ll understand the impact it can have.


Boasting traditionally attractive aesthetics, a CLT build gives you the feeling of being closer to nature even as you’re stepping into a decidedly modern architectural space.


With some industry leaders already dreaming of 1,000-feet high wooden skyscrapers, there’s no doubt we’re at the beginning of an exciting relationship with CLT.

CLT Tower Building
Penda Architects Modular Timber Tower


What is cross laminated timber?


CLT is a building material composed of layers of solid-sawn lumber in the form of heavy, structured wood panels.


Known as one of the most energy-efficient construction resources on the market, CLT is renowned for its low carbon footprint, strength-to-weight ratio, and appealing aesthetic.


First pioneered in the 1990s, CLT has seen some uptake since it hit the market. It often appears as a striking element within a majority typical build or as a hidden detail tucked behind cladding.

Cross laminated timber
Cross laminated timber (CLT)


Why isn’t CLT used worldwide today?


While timber-based structures are popular in countries like Canada, the Netherlands and Austria, CLT is still enduring a slow global uptake.


This is partly down to limited resources compared to traditional materials (such as steel), higher cost potentials, and lengthier design periods that deter developers.


Ironically, most of these downsides will reduce as the demand for CLT increases. But what about CLT’s biggest “flaw”?


Wood is highly flammable. Understandably, people are concerned about safety - especially considering recent tragedies like West London’s Grenfell Tower.


But while wood does burn quickly, it’s highly predictable. Fire Engineers can pinpoint exactly how a timber structure will burn, whereas heated steel and cement melts and cracks seemingly at random.


It’s very possible to design a timber building that is highly conducive to preserving life, by defining clear prevention and exit strategies should the worst occur.




What are the benefits of using CLT?


So why should we bet on CLT?


It’s been proven that biophilic environments have significant restorative effects on the people occupying them, and that they can reduce stress and anxiety. While this isn’t a huge motivator for developers today, consider what the demands and “must haves” are going to be for the residential and commercial spaces of tomorrow.


CLT is also sustainable; projects have faster build times and far less material waste. And as a resource, wood is infinitely renewable if managed correctly, especially if we establish sustainable harvesting and forestry practises.


Putting it simply; demand will increase, build costs will shrink, and the world will look (and feel) a lot better.




What acoustic solutions exist for CLT builds?


In terms of acoustics engineering, CLT builds are relatively new tech - but acousticians are listening carefully.


While we don’t necessarily have every solution characterised in a lab yet, we’ve developed software that combines cutting-edge calculation methods with sound prediction models to produce very promising results.


With what we’ve learned about facilitating superior acoustic solutions for CLT developments, we’re able to help you and your design team achieve the right criteria for your project.


It’s no exaggeration to say that CLT is going to be an architectural and development game-changer over the next 10 years.


And as acoustics engineers who are fascinated with sustainable, future-thinking architectural trends, we can’t wait.

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