Swedish wooden skyscraper is the perfect example of how sustainable buildings can fight climate change | Earth.Org – Past | Present
In the race to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, architects and urban planners are investigating methods to reduce the impact of urban sprawl. An important aspect is finding innovative ways to build our homes, offices and infrastructure in climate-smart ways. A Swedish town recently completed a groundbreaking project, proving how sustainable buildings can play a huge role in reducing the impact of cities on the environment.
Of all the types of ecosystems, urban areas produce by far the greatest amount of carbon emissions. Although they make up less than 2% of the Earth’s surface, data from UN Habitat shows that cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions. Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental problems associated with urban areas and it is mainly caused by heating systems, traffic and construction sites, with construction works alone being responsible for more than a third of global energy-related carbon emissions. Cement, one of the most commonly used materials in construction works, is the largest single industrial CO2 emitter in the world.
Urban areas are exploring ways to reduce their environmental footprint and slow global warming, and finding innovative ways to construct sustainable buildings has become a crucial part of the equation. Several cities have designed outstanding architectural masterpieces known to have minimal environmental impact. Examples can be found all over the world, from Sydney to Shanghai, Milan to Copenhagen and Toronto to Mexico City.
Among the many green constructions scattered around the world, one in particular stands out: the recently completed 75 meter high Sara Culture Center in Skellefteå, a small urban center located in the heart of the Bothnian Bay. The 20-story building, named after a popular Swedish author, houses six theater stages, a library, two art galleries, a conference center and a hotel. What makes it unique is the fact that the center was built entirely out of wood – 12,000 cubic meters to be precise. It is one of the tallest wooden towers in the world, just behind another scandinavian masterpiece, the multi-purpose structure completed in 2019 in Brumunddal, Norway. However, the center is not the only such construction in the Swedish city, which for centuries relied on the abundance of wood in nearby forests to construct its buildings.
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While cement constructions have a huge environmental footprint, wooden buildings do the exact opposite: they sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it forever. The architects behind the project claim the center capture nearly nine million kilograms of carbon dioxide throughout his life. Wood has by far the lowest environmental impact of any other commercial material and it also has excellent thermal insulation properties, useful in preventing heat energy from escaping. To further reduce its environmental impact, the building has also been fitted with highly efficient solar panels that will power it and store excess energy in the basement.
Although first ruled out due to fire fears, the wood has proven to perform well in the event of a fire after extensive blast testing in the United States. A study published in 2019 also confirmed its ability to absorb carbon dioxide emissions, demonstrating that one cubic meter of CTL wood sequesters approximately one tonne of CO2. Finally, constructing buildings with CTL is a much faster and less labor intensive process that is also ultimately responsible for minimal waste generation. Given its remarkable characteristics, cross-laminated timber (CLT) has spread rapidly around the world, with several European countries and more recently also many US states use it in the construction of sustainable residential buildings. Of course, solid wood must be combined with climate-smart forestry. And while experts believe that there is enough wood to use for building construction around the world, it is imperative that we take good care of our forests. Instead, we are still slaughtering 10 million hectares of trees each year.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Ted Logart/imagebank.sweden.se