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Designing a Tall Building of Timber, by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP

File Type: Free Content, Article
Release Date: October 2013
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Is it possible to create a tall building of timber rather than steel or precast concrete? Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP (SOM) has developed a structural system for tall buildings that uses mass timber — solid panels of wood engineered for strength through laminations of different layers — as its main structural element. The firm’s “Timber Tower Research Project” reports on this system, which SOM believes has the potential to result in “an efficient structure that could compete with reinforced concrete and steel while reducing the carbon footprint by 60 to 75 percent.” 

SOM applied its system to a prototypical building based on an existing concrete benchmark building. According to the report, SOM’s solution, the “Concrete Jointed Timber Frame,” “relies primarily on mass timber for the main structural elements, with supplementary reinforced concrete at the highly stressed locations of the structure: the connecting joints. This system plays to the strengths of both materials and allows the engineer to apply sound tall building engineering fundamentals.”

While “SOM believes that the proposed system is technically feasible from the standpoint of structural engineering, architecture, interior layouts, and building services,” the firm is not yet ready to construct a wooden tower. The report concludes that “additional research and physical testing” are “necessary to verify the performance of the structural system.”