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site.btaCanadian Architect Michael Green: Wood Can Be Used in Construction of Any Urban Building, including Skyscraper

Canadian Architect Michael Green: Wood Can Be Used in Construction of Any Urban Building, including Skyscraper
Canadian Architect Michael Green: Wood Can Be Used in Construction of Any Urban Building, including Skyscraper
Canadian architect Michael Green presenting a building his team designed for a California-based IT company's headquarters, Brussels, April 12, 2024 (BTA Photo)

The world is used to utilizing four main building materials: concrete, steel, bricks, and wood. Three of them have a huge carbon imprint, and construction as a whole generates over 30% of carbon dioxide emissions in the world. Canadian architect Michael Green, winner of some of the most prestigious international awards in architecture, chooses the fourth material - wood - to build functional and beautiful buildings that defy the way of thinking about architecture.

In an interview for BTA on the sidelines of the Festival of the New European Bauhaus, Green said that if we had known a century ago how bad concrete and steel were going to be for climate change, we would have thought about new materials a century ago and we would have been better at understanding natural materials and their potential. "Where I live, trees grow to be 30-40 metres tall. If a tree can grow to 30-40 metres, then surely we can learn from nature to make very strong and tall buildings," he added.

At present, Green and his team are designing a 55-story wooden building in Milwaukee, USA, which will be the tallest building in the world. There are projects proposed close to that height already in Australia and elsewhere, he noted. "Part of the reason that tall is important is because it shows the public that every building can be built this way once you build a tall building this way. If you can build a skyscraper that way, then of course you can build the smaller size. So, we use height to talk about engineering to push the dreams for people and the possibility for people," he explained, adding that most of his work is not about tall buildings but ones on all scales. 

Nearly a decade ago, Green's team constructed a seven-story building T3 using insect-damaged trees. With its 21,000 sq m, T3 is currently the biggest wooden building in the USA and, thus, provides invaluable information about the characteristics of big wooden constructions. At present, Green's studio is working on a wooden building in California that will house the headquarters of a global IT company.

"We actually don't necessarily think the world needs a lot of skyscrapers. I don't really like skyscrapers. I don't think they're a great place to live.
There is inefficiency of building really tall, and that is true for all materials, meaning it is less carbon efficient to build really tall than it is to build mid-rise," he noted. A lot of the building he wants to construct are mid-rise height of 16 or 18 stories.

However, wooden buildings are not the right choice for every place. For regions of the world with higher risk of earthquakes, like Turkiye and Canada, wood is a very good material of choice. However, there are places where it is harder to work with wood, for example in areas with hurricane-force winds.
Still, there is no place on earth we can't build it this way safely, Green added.

He underscored that other solutions should be sought for parts of the world where there is no sustainable forestry. "So many parts of the world I won’t buy wood from because I don't believe it's sustainable forestry. And in those regions I don't want to build with wood, I want to build in other ways," he noted. For such regions, other plants can be in construction that grow very quickly, are regionally important, and work naturally with the local ecologies and the soils. "They don't exist today, but I hope within 20 years that is the way we think and build. To get there we have to invest today. We have to put a lot of investment into the science of it."

"We have to think bigger as an industry than we do right now, because we really are trying to solve very small-scale problems. We're trying to make bad materials a little bit better or we're trying to solve things at a very, very, very local level. Straw bale, earth houses - these are all good but are not going to solve the scale of human problems. We need to build big cities out of the new materials," Green argued, adding that plant-based technologies allow us to think that way. Through investment and the corresponding change in building codes, in some 20 years that will be the way buildings are constructed around the world, he believes.

According to him, AI is going to be really helpful because it allows for very quick testing of different theories and harnessing a lot of information. Also, AI is helpful in "understanding the truth about the true cost of buildings, the impact on human health and well-being, the impact on productivity, on efficiency, on making buildings quicker."

"We don't capture a lot of the true cost of buildings," he went on to say, listing the costs of pollution, carbon, environmental degradation, and social impact. "There are many, many, many costs that we don't calculate and we don't ask developers to pay or governments to pay. But as we start to understand those, all of a sudden a lot of the ideas we're talking about of plant-based solutions and more sustainable solutions become more economical," Green said.

"We need big ideas right now that have big impact and big change. And those have to be driven by, I believe, the private sector who will make a lot of money in fueling the big change. I use the example of Tesla. Tesla was pushing against an industry that said no. They succeeded: they became the most valuable car company in the world. Now every other car company makes electric cars and wants to catch up. The construction industry is going to go through the exact same change. Who's Elon Musk now for this industry? We don't know. But it will happen," Green argued.

According to him, these big ideas can come from any country on the planet. If one has access to the internet, AI tools, and the necessary education, one can make these ideas happen. The important thing is to invest in bigger ideas, not little ideas, because the later are important, but time is of the essence for us to think much bigger, Green told BTA. "This is not a time for institutionalized thinking. This is time for revolutionary thinking," he concluded.

/DS/

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By 22:50 on 19.06.2024 Today`s news

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