When considering the durability of any wooden structure, one can simply look towards the Asian continent, specifically China. Aside from the Tiananmen Square, also known as the Forbidden City that is almost entirely constructed out of wood and has been standing for centuries, let’s look at other taller wooden structures that are taller than those.
In the Shanxi province of China, in Yink County, a wooden structure stands tall at 220.243 feet. The incredible wooden tower was built between 916-1125 during the Liao Dynasty, and it’s still standing today. Not sure if you are aware of this, but many parts of China, including this region, are hit by earthquakes relatively commonly. Despite all of those earth-shaking Acts of God, this wooden structure managed to hold its ground. In 2016, this octagonal-shaped pagoda was declared the world’s highest wood tower by the Guinness World Records. Throughout the years, it also managed to withstand multiple wars.
The reason why this wooden tower managed to withstand the test of time, earthquakes, and wars is considered to be the unique architectural design and extraordinary feats of carpentry. Because guess what? They used no nail or piece of metal to erect this remarkable building. It is now considered a microcosm of Chinese history and an inheritance of Chinese culture because it embodies the classic architectural styles celebrated both in China and across the globe. The signature pattern seen in the roofing style can be seen even in Chinese neighborhoods across the US.
Wood is a naturally stable and robust material. Simply looking at the height reached by mature trees and the fact that they are so thin, yet they do not fall, should give us at least an impression of how strong and resilient the material is. Quite contradictory, wood is also a very light material, but that does not mean that it can not sustain incredible amounts of weight. It can withstand significant winds and the forces of Acts of God because of the way its structure develops naturally.
If you take a piece of wood, you can establish that it is made out of long and thin cells that are very strong. These uniquely elongated cells give wood its structural fortitude. The cells of the wood are made out of cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin. Even when the wood is cut and transformed into timber used in construction, these cells maintain their properties, delivering the lightweight and nimbleness for structural solutions. These properties make wood more resistant and durable than other building materials.
To add even more strength to the material, when the wood is compressed, and tension forces are exerted parallel to the wood grain, wood can withstand a considerable amount of force, despite its lightweight. Take a Douglas-fir square, for example, that’s no bigger than four by four inches. That small piece of wood, when compressed parallel to the wood grain, can support almost 11,000 pounds. Now that we understand just how much weight wood can support, how does its flexibility fit into the picture? Many think that wood’s flexibility is its weakness. Think again because, in construction, that is the characteristic that makes it perform the best when under regular and constant stress.
That’s my favorite part of these wooden skyscrapers. Fire is a joke to them because while wood does burn, it also turns to charcoal. And that is the most remarkable attribute wood has when it comes to wooden skyscrapers. Now go ahead and ask yourself, how can that be a good thing? Well … mass timber, the wooden structures used in wooden skyscrapers, are built through multiple slabs of wood fused together. So, the wood will burn in case of fire, but only the part exposed to fire will burn. And that’s where charcoaling becomes the material’s greatest asset. Once charcoaled, the piece of wood that does burn and turns black protects the next slab of wood from being affected by the fire. It works like a shield or a bulletproof vest. Fire can’t get to it because once the wood turns black, it stops burning or propagating heat to the other wood slabs.
And there you have it. Wood is an incredibly durable material from more than just one perspective, making wooden skyscrapers an incredible, almost magical variant for a sustainable future through environmental planning for the entirety of the real estate and construction industry. Our lifestyle has an immense impact on the environment, and we can no longer deny that. The time for action was yesterday, but we seem to keep thinking that we’ll still have time if we act tomorrow, or next year, or next century, but the truth of the matter is that we might not have another century if we don’t act now.