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Sowing seeds for timber skyscrapers can rewind the carbon footprint of the concrete industry

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The Centre for Natural Material Innovation exhibit their proposals for timber skyscrapers at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition.

Recent innovations in engineered timber have laid the foundations for the world’s first wooden skyscrapers to appear within a decade, a feat that is not only achievable—according to the Centre for Natural Material Innovation—but one they hope will beckon in an era of sustainable wooden cities, helping reverse historic emissions from the construction industry.


The research team based at the Faculty of Architecture, is interdisciplinary, composed of architects, biochemists, chemists, mathematicians and engineers, who specialise in plant-based material, including cross-laminated timber, arguably the first major structural innovation since the advent of reinforced concrete, 150 years ago. 


The team envisage trees supplanting concrete as the predominant building material for cities, with buildings sown like seeds and cities harvested as crops, a way of simultaneously addressing climate change and global housing shortages. 


Principal Investigator Dr Michael Ramage explains: "timber is the only building material we can grow, and that actually reduces carbon dioxide. Every tonne of timber expunges 1.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


Doing the calculations, if all new English homes were constructed from timber, we could capture and offset the carbon footprints of around 850,000 people for 10 years".


Beyond tackling climate change and promoting sustainability, the team are eager to outline the branching benefits society stands to gain by embracing timber architecture: the psychological well-being that comes from being surrounded by wood as compared with concrete, as well as the return to an ancient building material, that’s intimate as it is natural.


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