Build It With Wood

Mass Timber’s Breakthrough

May. 07, 2020
CLT cross section

Writing by Frank Lowenstein, photo of a cross-laminated timber slab by Charlie Reinertsen

It’s looking like 2020 is going to be the year mass timber breaks into the mainstream. Here are five articles out since the new year that look at different aspects of the mass timber construction movement, as well as two articles from last year where NEFF had a major imprimatur.


Title: “The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood”
Author: David Roberts | Vox

What happens when one of the world’s most famous climate writers turns his eye to wood buildings? This spectacularly detailed look into the climate potential of plyscrapers and other forms of mass timber construction. Dave Roberts, now also known as Dr. Vox, takes a hip look at the field, and explains how mass timber helps hold back climate change. Read the story.


Title: “Tallest timber tower in the world to break ground in Milwaukee this spring”
Author: Cearron Bagenda | CBS58

North America is giving Scandinavia a run for its money in the tallest wood building race. First the Treet apartment building in Bergen, Norway, seized the world record at 14 stories. Then the Brock Commons dormitory at the University of British Columbia in Canada jumped ahead at 18. Norway rushed back with the 18 story, but taller, Mjostarnet. Now the United States enters the competition with a 25-story whopper, the Ascent building in Milwaukee, WI, with plans to break ground this spring. Read the story.


Title: “Has the wooden skyscraper revolution finally arrived?”
Author: Oscar Holland | CNN

CNN’s recent coverage of wood buildings focuses on how their construction cost keeps coming down, putting them on the verge of being cheaper than steel and concrete—a tipping point that looks likely to send towers soaring to over 900 feet above London and more than 1,000 above Tokyo. Read the story.

From the Forest!

Title: “Will the skyscrapers of the future be made out of wood?”
Author: Saul Elbein | National Geographic

Compared to articles with similar topics, recent coverage from National Geographic of mass timber includes more discussion of where the wood will come from, and focuses particularly on rising climate-driven mortality in forests that affects how forests must be managed to produce wood sustainably. The main point of the article: diverse forests are more resilient. New England’s forests are remarkably diverse and much less fragile than some more diverse forests like tropical rain forests. When managed according to NEFF’s Exemplary Forestry standards, they can produce high-quality wood, great wildlife habitat, and still store more carbon on the land. Read the story.


Title: “It’s wood. It’s Passive House. It’s the ‘Goldilocks density.’”
Author: Lloyd Alter | TreeHugger

Boston features prominently in the mass timber news of the day, with the announcement of the first major cross-laminated timber building in Boston—a five-story apartment house in Roxbury. The building will be net zero energy and net zero carbon, demonstrating how wood can play a key role in fighting climate change. Read the story.

To the Computer!

Title: “Forget the log cabin. Wood buildings are climbing skyward — with pluses for the planet.”
Author: Doug Struck | The Washington Post

Computers play a vital role in the wood building revolution, with computer-controlled cutting creating precision openings for windows, doors, pipes, and wires. So, it’s especially appropriate that Microsoft is building a huge new campus out of cross-laminated timber. This December 2019 article from The Washington Post touches on the Microsoft campus, and also quotes NEFF Executive Director Bob Perschel. Read the story.

Solving the Climate Crisis!

Title: “Let’s Fill Our Cities With Taller, Wooden Buildings”
Authors: Frank Lowenstein, Brian Donahue and David Foster | The New York Times

Mass timber can’t do it alone, but it can be part of a coordinated strategy to use our world’s forests to best advantage. NEFF’s Chief Conservation Officer led the charge to publish this op-ed in The New York Times in fall 2019, advocating for a comprehensive approach: save forests, manage them better, and use the wood for long-lived products. Like buildings! Read the story.