The tallest wood buildings are shooting up over city landscapes globally, replacing traditional concrete and steel towers with majestic, naturally sourced, cathedral-esque timber structures.

Wooden building

Source: Shutterstock / Kristin Spalder

Kevin Goldsmith headshot

Kevin Goldsmith

William Poole-Wilson headshot

William Poole-Wilson

Considering the recent COP26 conference in Glasgow and its mission to tackle climate change under the Paris Agreement, perhaps a move towards more tall timber structures should be accelerated. Considering timber’s green credentials and the fact trees can lock in carbon – a cubic metre of structural timber stores around one ton of carbon dioxide – a debate around the idea of taller timber buildings could be both welcome and timely.

So, are we ready for these to appear on our skylines or are there still too many challenges in the way?

There have been several tall timber buildings of more than seven storeys completed around the world in the last decade; this would suggest there has been some success. Europe apparently still leads the way, which is surprising given North America’s desire for tall buildings.

These tall timber structures built mostly from cross-laminated timber and glulam could provide opportunities to push the boundaries of what can be achieved. The change to the international building code means we could see buildings of 18 storeys of mass timber in the not-too-distant future.

Fire safety has always been one of the biggest hurdles along with whether the timber may be exposed or protected – often it must be covered with a non-combustible protective layer, which could negate certain health benefits.

Will+Partners continues to be interested in the new design potential of using this organic and natural material for the cityscapes of the future. Clearly, London and other global cities need to densify; and people certainly feel more affinity with timber structures than concrete and steel.

Given that the use of natural materials such as timber has known health and wellbeing properties, maybe the tall-timber revolution is here to take root.

Kevin Goldsmith is a director and project leader and William Poole-Wilson is managing director at Will+Partners