The Future of Architecture: A Timber Revolution

Its combination of sustainability, strength, flexibility and speed of construction is fast making wood a more attractive option than concrete.

Nathaniel Bahadursingh Nathaniel Bahadursingh

Now open for entries, the 8th Annual A+Awards is celebrating the Future of Architecture, giving global recognition to forward-thinking designers forging new solutions for our evolving world. As part of the program, the “Future of Architecture” editorial series will highlight the growing trends that will help shape the built environment in the new decade. Enter the A+Awards now to be considered for upcoming coverage.

Architizer’s A+Awards, the world’s largest awards program for architecture and building products, has a special theme this year — “The Future of Architecture” is aimed at unearthing the most forward-thinking projects around the globe, with a particular focus on architecture that responds to the most urgent issues of our time. The A+Awards is open for entries now, with an Early Entry Deadline of February 14th 2020, so be sure your firm submits its best projects before then to secure the lowest possible entry fee.

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This renewed focus begs the question: What are the most urgent issues of the day with regards to the built environment? At the top of the list surely comes climate change, and in particular the increased awareness of the carbon-intensive processes used in construction. The industry’s massive use of concrete is being questioned like never before, its embodied energy making it one of the least sustainable materials being used on the most incredible scale. Architects are searching for alternatives with growing urgency.

Wood, a traditional material that’s been utilized for building structures for thousands of years, is increasingly becoming the material choice for many. Its sustainability, quality, strength, flexibility and speed of construction has made wood a much more attractive option when compared to its less eco-friendly counterpart. New ways of engineering wood, such as cross-laminated timber, has given rise to a refreshing wave of innovative wooden architecture. Including a number of A+Awards winners and finalists from recent years, the following projects showcase bold new applications of this timeless material:

Longfu Life Experience Center by LUO studio, Puyang, China

Longfu Life Experience Center was a finalist in the 2019 A+Awards in the Architecture +Technology category. The project makes use of leftover materials, namely wooden beams and rafters, from the renovation and construction of houses in the Chinese village of Luotuowan.

The philosophy of this project combines technology and human development, calling for constructing the largest and most solid structure with minimal energy input and material use. Wooden rod units constitute the structural system, and these reclaimed materials were not altered. Instead, each wooden unit was ingeniously arranged into position. As a result, a flexible pergola structure was created, which conforms to its materials and the surrounding landscape.

The Smile by Alison Brooks Architects Ltd, London, United Kingdom

Jury Winner in the 2017 A+ Awards, “The Smile” was constructed entirely with cross-laminated American tulipwood. The public pavilion was conceived as a habitable arc poised on the horizon. It was a four-sided, curved timber tube that cantilevered 12 meters in two directions from its center point.

Entering from an opening where the arc touched the ground, the visitor could travel from end to end of the 34-meter-long, dynamically curved space. Each end of the tube offered a viewing platform. “The Smile” was prefabricated as 12 industrial-sized tulipwood CLT panels. Arup applied their latest timber research to devise a structural connection system of 4,000 screws over a foot long that could be installed with an ordinary rechargeable screwdriver.

Hotel Hotel Lobby & Nishi Grand Stair Interior by March Studio, Canberra, Australia

A finalist in the 2015 A+Awards in the Hotels & Resorts category, Hotel Hotel Lobby & Nishi Grand Stair Interior is composed of thousands of pieces of repurposed timber. The lobby projects a unique identity, blurring boundaries while directing views and movement. The grand stair that leads up to the lobby is made of a heavy, grounded, stacked agglomeration of timber. Suspended timber elements, which scatters up the walls and across the ceiling, filters exterior light and views into and from internal spaces.

Cross-Laminated-Timber Cottage by Kariouk Associates Quebec, Canada

The task for this project was to design a small cottage using prefabricated cross-laminated timber (CLT). Sitting on a remote, private lake with the aim of recreating a previously standing cottage, this project utilized CLT to minimize the cost of labor on the construction site while simultaneously ensuring the highest quality of construction.

A detailed computer model was generated for every surface that would comprise the cottage and other details were indicated. A computer-controlled milling machine used this information to produce the finished panels. These were brought to the site, where a steel-post foundation was installed a week before and hoisted into place. The entire shell of the cottage was assembled in less than two days. The cottage was able to successfully maintain the same character and build as its more traditional predecessor.

Archery Hall and Boxing Club by FT Architects, Tokyo, Japan

Situated on the grounds of Kogakuin University in west Tokyo, this project called for low-cost structures made of locally sourced timber to provide accessible and inspiring spaces for students. In order to achieve traditional, column-free spaces while using low-cost methods of construction, unconventional uses of timber materials were chosen.

Small timber sections, normally reserved for furniture making, were chosen for the archery hall, and timber members deemed defective because of insect damage was used for the boxing club. A delicate, lattice frame composed of slender ties, beams and posts was constructed for the archery hall and a bolder, stepped frame for the boxing club. Here, timber has been reanalyzed and transformed into a new building material.

Autobahn Church by schneider+schumacher, Wilnsdorf, Germany

Autobahn Church was a Popular Vote winner in the 2014 A+ Awards in the Religious Buildings category. Contrary to the expectations set by the white, geometric exterior of the church, the interior opens up into a naturally lit, domed space. All of the outer walls are formed in timber-framed construction, with laminated timber elements used for the roof structure and the towers. The majority of the building components were constructed off site, allowing an optimized and shortened, on-site assembly.

The timber roof and wall elements are cavity-insulated, with the inner and outer faces of the timber members clad with panels of oriented strand board. The highly complex, three-dimensional structure of the timber inner dome was formed using parametric design techniques. This resulted in a finely detailed wooden ribbed structure that optimized both the material and the construction down to the last detail.

Bow River Pedestrian Bridge by StructureCraft, Banff, Canada 

Stretching across the Bow River within Canada’s Banff National Park, this slender 370-foot long timber bridge serves pedestrian traffic and provides sanitary crossing. The 270-foot clear span is formed from two 130-foot tapered haunch girders, cantilevering from either side to support a central 111-foot suspended span.

A replaceable, modular timber deck sits atop twinned Glulam beams which grow to six feet deep. A custom built tuned mass damping system was implemented to help achieve the slender 13-foot wide deck section and to deal with vibrations from pedestrian loading.

EY Centre by fjmt, Sydney, Australia

The EY Centre is a city tower positioned at the edge of Sydney’s Tank-Stream. This project sought to develop a city tower that is warm, human, responsive, and fosters a healthy and sustainable workplace. Yellow Block sandstone on which the site rests was quarried and blocked, and is used to clad the core of the new tower, forming the building’s spine.

A suspended awning of folded timber planes forms a soft edge to the street and public foyer, and it also serves to protect the footpath and reflect light into the lobby interior. Appearing like a tower of wood, the building’s facade is made with multiple layers. The outer layer is a single sheet of low iron clear glass with a layer of automated louvres of natural timber behind it. As a result the tower’s facade is clear and transparent, allowing the natural color of the wood to glow in the sun.

Canary Wharf Crossrail by Foster + Partners, London, United Kingdom

This project called for a mixed-use scheme that encompassed the over-ground elements of a new station for the Crossrail project at Canary Wharf. Central to the plan was a new, distinctive roof, which wraps around the building like a protective shell. This 300-meter-long, timber lattice roof opens in the center to draw in light and rain for natural irrigation.

The organic nature and appearance along with its strength, adaptability, and sustainability made timber an incredibly useful material to use. Despite the smooth curve of the enclosure, there are only four curved timber beams in the structure. To do this, an innovative system of steel nodes were put in place to resolve the twist. The visual simplicity of the arching timber lattice masks the geometric complexity of the structure.

Shoffice by Platform 5 Architects, London, United Kingdom

“Shoffice” (shed and office) is a garden pavilion containing a small office located to the rear of a 1950s terraced house in London. The brief called for a sculptural object that flowed into the garden space. An extruded, timber elliptical shell wraps around the office and forms a small terrace in the lawn. The lightweight structure, formed with two steel ring beams, timber ribs, and a stressed plywood skin, sits on minimal pad foundations. Much of the structure was prefabricated to reduce the amount of material that needed to be transported during construction.


We can’t wait to see which projects you enter for consideration by our expert jury. Submit your works for the 8th Annual A+Awards before February 14th to secure your Early Entry Discount. Good luck from the whole team at Architizer!

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