This guest blog post is by Andrzej Manka, Sales Manager at Timber Expo.
When we think of innovative sectors, the timber industry probably isn’t the first that springs to mind. Many believe this industry is very traditional, conservative and reluctant to change.
In a word – die-hard! This is especially true when you compare it with other industries: new tech or finance for example, not to mention AI. In our ultra-modern world, we appreciate constant growth, astonishing productivity and impressive innovation above all else.
But this stereotype doesn’t match with the reality; the timber industry is now up there at the top of UK and international innovation lists. Admittedly, these represent only a small minority of timber companies, but their success gives the industry dynamics and makes it the leading power in the whole construction business.
As Daniel Kahneman states in his brilliant book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, stereotypical and simplified thinking is a characteristic for the “Fast system” of thinking, the type we use to understand something immediately and without any unnecessary effort. This way of thinking and making sense of the world evoke an image of the timber industry as rather backward, and poor in innovation. However, there is a second way of thinking, the “Slow system,” which enables us to go through all important details and deal with the more complex issues.
When you take the time to study the timber industry, as I have been doing for the past 11 months, you will discover so many astonishing and innovative projects in the industry that you’ll likely fall in love in timber quite easily. Not to mention that wood is beautiful, and makes our homes and offices so much more aesthetic, natural and trendy.
“A timber revolution is in the air.” – this is the first sentence of the description of the fantastic exhibition in Roca London Gallery.
“Construction heading towards a ‘timber revolution” – proclaims another exciting headline from a video published by BBC.
Alex de Rijke, of dRMM described wood to be the new concrete: “Concrete is a 20th-century material. Steel is a 19th-century material. Wood is a 21st-century material.”
Timber is becoming the leading material in construction industry in the UK and is nearly 30% of the whole construction projects.
The value of the timber industry to the British economy is £7 billion.
So let’s have a look at the four wonders of the timber industry. They are not really “wonders” in a literal sense; they are actually the result of creative, courageous and hard working timber specialists. This is, of course, a very subjective (dare I say even controversial?) list of “Four wonders.” It’s more like an invitation for us to discuss certain achievements in the timber industry.
One other thing- this list list contains different categories like technology, production, and architecture. Maybe it’s a bit risky to compare projects that belong to different science or business activities, but let’s try.
1. Transparent wood
Invented first in 1992 by German researcher Siegfried Fink and then, independently developed by Professor Lars Berglund. This Swedish KTH research group, led by Professor Liangbing Hu from The University of Maryland, have elaborated a method to remove the color and some chemicals from wood. Thanks to that, the wood becomes 90% transparent. Potential application of this invention is very far-reaching and the wood could be used in construction, interior design and even the car industry.
2. Engineered wood
On the image above you can see an example Cross-laminated-timber housing in east London; “a 10-storey carbon-neutral apartment complex in London’s Dalston, the “world’s largest cross-laminated timber building”.
Engineered wood technologies are what makes the timber & construction industry so dynamically developing and profitable. The most used in the construction industry are plywood, fibreboard, cross-laminated timber (CLT), laminated strand lumber, and many more. Because of the use of these timber products, it’s been predicted many times during the last decade that timber will be the main building material in XXI century.
3. Timber skyscrapers
At the moment, the world’s tallest timber building is a 14-storey apartment block in Bergen, Norway. However, we are expecting a lot of new timber skyscrapers in the UK, USA, Europe and Asia in future. One of the advanced projects that should be started very soon is an 80-storey, 300m high wooden building integrated within the Barbican (on the image above). Around 1,000 new flats will be build in this impressive 93,000-square-metre timber skyscraper project.
Timber skyscrapers are not only stunning examples of strong “timber trends” in contemporary architecture, but they also bring sustainable development to big cities, as well as reducing carbon emissions.
4. Museum Globe of Science and Innovation
Are you familiar with the history of the Internet? If so, you’ll know that Tim Berners Lee invented the World Wide Web when he worked in The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) based in Geneva, Switzerland. The same organization has built the Globe of Science and Innovation, a fine example of outstanding construction. The museum of modern technology, made of wood, is a perfect concept. It creates a very special atmosphere for those who wants to stop for a moment and contemplate the nature of technological innovation.
There are so many more impressive wooden wonders of the world! You can find literally hundreds of great examples. One of my favorites is The Splinter, a wooden sports car with a twin-supercharged 4.6 litre V8.
Not to mention an interesting initiative from Metsa, one of the world’s leading timber companies. They have just started the Open Source Wood initiative, a project to encourage innovation and the sharing of knowledge inside the timber industry. Metsä Wood’s Executive Vice President, Esa Kaikkonen, explains why the project was established: “Not enough knowledge about modular wood design and building is shared, so wood construction remains niche. There is plenty of innovation but it is difficult to find, so Open Source Wood is our solution. We believe that with open collaboration the industry can achieve significant growth.”
There is still many ways in which the timber industry can evolve, but there is no doubt that the timber revolution has already started and it looks very exciting!