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12-Story Wooden Building In Portland Will Be Nation's Tallest

By Maria Cook

In 2015, the Re-Think Wood Initiative (whose purpose is to encourage sustainable urban development in North America) announced a Tall Wood Competition, wherein designers could submit their plans for sustainable, wooden buildings. The winning design would be granted a 1.5 million dollar award, allowing the project to be brought to life. Builders are now set to begin construction on the winning design, entitled Framework, in Portland Oregon this fall.  

At 12 stories and 90,000 square feet, Framework will be the largest wooden building in the United States. Sometimes referred to as a "plyscraper", this innovative building is due to house retail shops, five floors of office space, five floors of apartments and a rooftop amenity space. Almost half of the building will be dedicated to affordable housing for mid-income level Portlanders, provided by Home Forward

Designer Thomas Robinson of LEVER Architecture has no plans to hide his building's innovative use of wood from the public. His design leaves much of the material exposed in full view. In fact, one of the purposes of Framework's design, according to Re-Think Wood's website, is to "communicate at street level the project’s innovative use of wood and engineering technology in the development of a tall wood structure."

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Source: Lever Architecture

Why is the use of wood important in buildings, like Framework? Simply put, building with wood is far better for the planet than conventional building materials. Cement, still the most commonly used material for large buildings in the U.S., is responsible for about 5% of all global CO2 emissions.

For every ton of cement made, one ton of CO2 is produced. Framework is made primarily of cross-laminated timber, or CLT. This material is similar to plywood, but far stronger due to the way it is manufactured, as lumber panels are layered at 90-degree angles and glued together on their wide faces. Because CLT is prefabricated, just like concrete, buildings using CLT are able to be built quickly, reducing the environmental impact of running construction equipment. 

According to Judith Sheine, department head of the School of Architecture at the University of Oregon, the advantages of CLT over more conventional materials are numerous: "The advantage of CLT over concrete is that it’s lighter, so it goes up easier and faster than concrete does … it’s also quieter in construction. And if you have to make tiny adjustments, it’s possible to do with wood and it’s not really possible with concrete."