In a town of 10,000 people, surrounded by farmland, is not where you’d expect to see the world’s tallest wooden skyscraper. But in the Norwegian town of Brumunddal, about 100 kilometers north of Oslo, you’ll find just that.
Opening last year, the 280-foot-tall Mjøstårnet tower became the tallest timber building. 18 stories tall and containing apartments, office space, and the aptly named Wood Hotel, this structure is the most recent piece of evidence indicating that a timber revolution is taking place in tall construction, providing an alternative to concrete and steel.
"To get attention, you have to build tall," said Øystein Elgsaas, a partner at the architecture practice behind the record-breaking tower, Voll Arkitekter, in a video call.
"And when you have the world's tallest building made of timber, everybody says, 'Wow, what's going on in Norway?' "
"People are interested, and that is actually the most important part of this building -- to showcase that it is possible, and to inspire others to do the same."
The building was made possible thanks to engineered wood, including something called CLT—cross-laminated timber. Part of a larger group of materials known as “mass timber” it is produced by gluing strips of laminated wood at ninety-degree angles to one another, and them compressing them into huge beams and panels.
The towers (nicknamed “plyscrapers”) were once just a thought experiment, but have been proving to be more and more capable of strength and economics.
This is one more attempt to make building more environmentally friendly, as the cost of construction and operation of buildings contributes to 40% of all the world’s energy consumption.
It’s still a tough sell in the big picture, though, says architect Michael Green.
"We're not at the point where (timber is) cheaper," he said. "And we want it to be cheaper because, at the end of the day, that's what governs the entire industry -- the cheapest solution.
"We have to solve climate change by making things more affordable, not by asking people to suck it up and pay more, because it doesn't work."