Wood in architecture - An AHEC analysis | THE PLAN
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Wood in architecture

A sustainable material that is renewed naturally

Wood in architecture - An AHEC analysis | THE PLAN

14 billion m3 (the equivalent of France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands together) for 90% owned by private owners, precisely 3.7 million small owners for 4% certified (less than 150,000), the majority of which deals with the harvesting only once in a generation. These are the numbers provided by AHEC (American Hardwood Export Council) on the American hardwood forest that expands at a speed of 150 million m3 per year.

For years, AHEC, which represents American hardwood producers, is committed to monitoring the environmental impact of wood projects through AHEP - American Hardwood Environmental Profile, an online tool that provides a complete environmental profile of American hardwood along with every single consignment of product shipped anywhere in the world. Each AHEP provides access to information on the risk of illegality and the sustainability of the U.S. hardwood species contained in that consignment, together with quantitative data on the environmental impacts associated with delivering that consignment to an individual customer anywhere in the world.

"Only now, as a society - explains David Venables, Europe director of the American Hardwood Export Council -, we begin to understand the impact of our choices on the planet in terms of greenhouse gases, accumulation of plastic waste, impact of some industrial sectors on watercourses, we consume so much! And everything we consume has further effects on the environment even after its life cycle, in terms of waste for example. This does not mean that we must not use wood, but that we must make sustainable use of the forest. Too often, due to some fashion trends, the demand focuses on some species, while others are little used and left in the forest, a missed opportunity for carbon design and storage. If in fact a mature tree is not felled, with the passage of time it deteriorates and releases in the atmosphere, during the process of rotting, the same quantity of CO2 absorbed during its life cycle".

American hardwood forests are managed sustainably and have a low environmental impact at all stages of their life cycle, starting from the extraction point. Forest management in the sector is not intensive, a consequence of the fact that most American hardwood forests are privately owned and managed by individuals, families or small businesses, rather than by large timber companies. The privately owned forest areas are relatively small, mostly below 10 hectares, which limits the size of the harvesting operations. The main motivation for owning land is not usually economic or aimed at timber production, but is simply the enjoyment of forest ownership. Since timber production and economic returns for shareholders are not primary objectives, owners tend to manage forests less aggressively. Selective cutting is the typical method, and consists in the removal of a few trees per hectare. After harvesting, forest owners usually rely on natural regeneration, which is abundant in the very fertile forest lands of the United States.

"Compared to other materials - emphasizes Venables - wood is renewable: it will grow again if we allow it. In the early 1900s, the eastern forests of the United States had been heavily deforested to support the development of the industry. At the time, they realized that much of that forest area had been lost and a great deal of concern spread. The wonderful thing is that nature is so powerful that it was enough for man to take a step back so that it would grow back more luxuriant than before. If you now fly over Virginia and Pennsylvania, you will see nothing but huge expanses of trees for hours. And this is proof that nature can compensate its resources independently".

From the tallest wooden skyscraper in the world (Mjøstårnet to Brumunddal, Norway - over 85 m) to the world's tallest residential building (in Bergen, Norway - 14 floors), the wood material has made great strides in recent decades. Starting from the performances, now similar to those of steel or concrete, but with a weight of the structure and a significantly lower impact on the environment during production and processing. Furthermore, today innovative wood products make possible applications unimaginable until a few years ago. For example, American tulipwood - which has always been used for moldings and frames - once thermally modified, is another extremely innovative product perfect for exteriors that resists the attack of insects and fungi.

 

American cherry for Ian Ritchie's Royal Academy of Music: Example of an underused species

 

Winner of numerous awards, including the RIBA London Building of the Year 2018, the project for Ian Ritchie Architects' Royal Academy of Music includes the creation of new spaces perfectly integrated within the historic building. Designed for both opera and musical theatre productions, The Susie Sainsbury Theatre that sits at the heart of the Academy has been acoustically coated in American cherry to offer excellent sound quality. The lighting deconstructs the traditional chandelier into an exploding theatre-wide galaxy of light through 600 fiber-optic crystals. Within the old concrete walls, the Theatre incorporates 40% more seating than previously through the addition of a balcony, as well as a larger orchestra pit, a stage wing and a fly tower.

American cherry is a fine wood quality typical of United States hardwood forests. This species is mainly widespread in the northeast region and is characterized by warm tones and superb finishing qualities. American cherry is growing 11.7 million m3 per year while the harvest is 4.3 million m3 per year. Cherry has medium density, with good wood bending properties, medium strength and shock resistance, but low stiffness, and can be steam bent with care. Being hard and stable when dry the wood is very easy to stain and finish to an excellent surface. It is highly prized for furniture and interior joinery.

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