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Mass Timber: The Next Great Disruption Of Construction, Wood Products Industries

The seeds of Andrew Waugh’s great disruption were planted in 2003. “Back then, people were saying we could ‘fix’ climate change by putting a solar panel on top of everything we built,” he remembered. “But we knew that wasn’t even close to enough.”

So Waugh’s East London architectural firm started studying mass timber, knowing it was the truly renewable building material – albeit largely unknown and untested in large-scale developments. “We were entranced by the opportunities this new material could provide,” he said.

It took five years for Waugh Thistleton Architects to hone their ideas – “so we could talk about the economic benefits of this kind of building” – and to bring that vision to reality in the world’s first mass timber tower, Murray Grove. The nine-story apartment complex in London’s Hackney borough was made from cross-laminated timber manufactured by KLH, an Austrian company.

Spruce strips were stacked crosswise three layers thick and glued together, producing horizontal beams and vertical structural wall boards that were harder than steel or concrete, with none of the associated carbon loss. The economic savings came at the construction site. Murray Grove was built in 27 days by four men, without a tower crane.

Using wood saved 1,150 tons of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere – the equivalent of running a wind turbine on top of the building for 210 years. And 29 families moved into new homes in a country with an overwhelming housing shortage.

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