Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Skate Break: Wood as a Structure

By Ryan Northcutt

Wood is one of the most beautiful materials that we have available to us as humans. This is merely my opinion, but I know there are plenty of others who believe in this as well. Wood has a history though. It is one that is positive and negative, beautiful and ugly, stupid and smart… really whatever you have to say about it has a counter point. With today’s advancements in engineering materials though, wood is becoming a usable resource in many ways that we would have not imagined. I don’t need to say much for people to already becoming skeptical about wood as a building material. We all know it burns and we all probably have memories of the tree house swaying 10 feet side to side and hearing cracking. Given some basic logic though, wood is made tough by our very own mother nature. There are trees that are thousands of years old, so how can we say that wood is not a good material to use. Even as a building material, many ancient structures that are wood are still standing, and to me that is enough to say that wood is good. Plus me being a skateboarder, wood is very important.
            I don’t want to make this a rant about wood or try and sway anyone’s opinion, I would just like to talk briefly of some of what wood can do. Starting at something close to my heart, skateboarding and wood go hand in hand, and there is no doubt that it is here to stay. As a small scale piece of engineered wood, the abuse skateboards go through prove that wood is super strong and durable under many conditions. So how does that translate into a building material? How can we take those properties and experiences and make them building structures? There are many dedicated people looking into wood as a major building material. Much of the research has been positive and continues to be on the positive side as research goes on. As a green product, wood is very sustainable and is our one and only renewable building materials we have really. So why not use it just knowing that? One study has shown that large timbers don’t actually burn like 2x4s, they char and that is that. Just think about when you through a large log on the fire, takes all night to burn that sucker. Now think about a building and how long it would take to burn, if it even gets to that point before the fire team shows up.
            As a structure, wood is not on par with concrete and steel, but it is rising as we speak. Wooden high rise buildings are being tested and researched as a new typology of building. But is it all that new? Not at all. Industrial typologies from the early 1900s prove that wood works. As an interior structure system, large timber frames have been used for a long time, and with new design techniques of today fire prevention is at a high rate. So why did we stop using wood so much? Most likely some media scare or something, but I believe in the next 20 years wood will be used plenty more and prove itself once again as a structure material, and not just a fancy paneled facade.

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