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The Low2No project is designed to help transition our cities to a low carbon future. We aim to balance economy, ecology and society through strategic investments and interventions in the built environment.

48. Week in Review

Labor disputes and heavy snowfall were the dominant factors affecting the Low2No innovation pipeline this week.  Myself and most of the Finnish delegation did manage to reach Garmisch for the final two days of Forum Holzbau.  The message was quite clear: industrialized timber construction has achieved maturity–it is a highly durable and economically competitive alternative to concrete.  We were presented residential projects from around central Europe, Sweden and the UK that were either wholly timber, or a majority timber/concrete hybrid that had achieved significant time and logistical reductions, rapid sales to desirable demographics, and CO2 savings.

Matti Mikkola from Stora Enso Timber based in Helsinki walked through a comparison study recently completed on several 4 to 7 story cross laminated timber (CLT) buildings in different central European and Nordic markets.  Their findings were compelling: while a component-to-component cost comparison reveals a -20% to +200% cost premium of CLT over concrete, the whole building cost for timber was only 3% greater than concrete because of savings from time reduction and collateral benefits such as reduced foundation size.  Matti’s belief is that once the CLT industry begins to standardize production methods and product platforms in the next 2-5 years, timber construction will be highly competitive with concrete.

From a regulatory perspective, Dr. Andreas Neumüller from Holzforschung Austria and Dr. Gerhard Schickhofer from TU Graz see harmonization of European timber construction standards in the next 5 years.  This will allow developers and architects to treat timber as an equal construction method to concrete and steel, without applying for special exemption or approval.

The combined experience of the speakers and attendees was that timber construction:

  • is capable of high capacity, complex structures
  • uses connections that are simple & easy to build & inspect
  • reduces staging & costs through prefabrication
  • improves performance of downstream trades because of flexibility
  • currently competes with a 3-5% premium over concrete
  • attracts desirable consumer groups
  • is sustainable/benefits from a stable, predictable resource supply

And in addition, way down the list, timber buildings generally sequester more carbon than is released during their construction into one of the most durable products made: buildings.  This may not matter to developers, but it is significant because as nations confront the challenge of climate change, they will push their municipalities to favor timber construction as part of a highly efficient building package through regulations and incentives designed to drive down direct and indirect emissions sources.  Now is the time to learn how to build again with timber.

Some of the new timber frame connection technology on display at Forum Holzbau 2010 in Garmisch, DE
Some of the new timber frame connection technology on display at Forum Holzbau 2010 in Garmisch, DE

In other news, the Low2No client team had a two day strategy session on Thursday and Friday to give shape to our decisions that will guide work in the design development phase.  Finding common ground between 3 very different clients is difficult, but we are making progress.  More to come soon!

This week, Jukka Noponen and Sitra’s Energy Programme together with the Tampere Central Region conducted an Urban Growth Boundary workshop.  Robin McArthur, Director of Planning and Development from the regional governing body Metro in Portland, Oregon discussed Portland’s successful sprawl management program.  Sprawl management has again surfaced as an important issue in Finland as its cities grow and rural areas empty out.  But it is also a highly sensitive political issue that most stakeholders have been unwilling to address with real measures.  During the workshop, Jukka saw many similar features between Metro’s management program and Finland’s planning tools that, with some slight reworking could accomplish similar outcomes.

The rest of the team was diving into the Low2No schematic phase documents.  With building plans in hand, Tuula Laitinen has been able to push Low2No’s visual identity with our partners.  Johanna Kirkinen found great interest in the design team’s proposals for the lifestyle/behavior dimension of the Low2No block.  It is clear to everyone that environmental concerns will not be the primary driver of behavior change.  It will have to come from a perception or realization of reduced costs and energy associated risks, improved health and comparative analysis of one’s own energy use with those in their immediate community.  This last part must be done carefully as past experience has shown that more information is not always better.

December 6th, 2010

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

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Category: Weeknotes