Michael Green: Why we should build wooden skyscrapers

Michael Green: Why we should build wooden skyscrapers

This is my grandfather. And this is my son. My grandfather taught me to work with wood when I was a little boy, and he also taught me the idea that if you cut down a tree
to turn it into something, honor that tree’s life
and make it as beautiful as you possibly can. My little boy reminded me that for all the technology
and all the toys in the world, sometimes just a small block of wood, if you stack it up tall, actually is an incredibly inspiring thing. These are my buildings. I build all around the world out of our office
in Vancouver and New York. And we build buildings
of different sizes and styles and different materials,
depending on where we are. But wood is the material
that I love the most, and I’m going to tell you
the story about wood. And part of the reason
I love it is that every time people go into my buildings that are wood, I notice they react
completely differently. I’ve never seen anybody walk
into one of my buildings and hug a steel or a concrete column, but I’ve actually seen
that happen in a wood building. I’ve actually seen
how people touch the wood, and I think there’s a reason for it. Just like snowflakes,
no two pieces of wood can ever be the same anywhere on Earth. That’s a wonderful thing. I like to think that wood gives Mother Nature
fingerprints in our buildings. It’s Mother
Nature’s fingerprints that make our buildings connect us to nature
in the built environment. Now, I live in Vancouver, near a forest that grows to 33 stories tall. Down the coast here
in California, the redwood forest grows to 40 stories tall. But the buildings
that we think about in wood are only four stories tall
in most places on Earth. Even building codes actually limit
the ability for us to build much taller than four
stories in many places, and that’s true here in the United States. Now there are exceptions, but there needs to be some exceptions, and things are going
to change, I’m hoping. And the reason I think that way is that today half of us live in cities, and that number is going
to grow to 75 percent. Cities and density mean that our buildings are going to continue to be big, and I think there’s a role
for wood to play in cities. And I feel that way
because three billion people in the world today,
over the next 20 years, will need a new home. That’s 40 percent of the world
that are going to need a new building built for them
in the next 20 years. Now, one in three people
living in cities today actually live in a slum. That’s one billion people
in the world live in slums. A hundred million people
in the world are homeless. The scale of the challenge for architects and for society to deal with in building is to find a solution
to house these people. But the challenge is,
as we move to cities, cities are built in these two materials, steel and concrete,
and they’re great materials. They’re the materials of the last century. But they’re also materials
with very high energy and very high greenhouse gas
emissions in their process. Steel represents about three percent of man’s greenhouse gas emissions, and concrete is over five percent. So if you think about that, eight percent of our contribution
to greenhouse gases today comes from those two materials alone. We don’t think about it
a lot, and unfortunately, we actually don’t even think
about buildings, I think, as much as we should. This is a U.S. statistic
about the impact of greenhouse gases. Almost half of our greenhouse gases
are related to the building industry, and if we look at energy,
it’s the same story. You’ll notice that transportation’s sort
of second down that list, but that’s the conversation
we mostly hear about. And although a lot
of that is about energy, it’s also so much about carbon. The problem I see is that, ultimately, the clash of how we solve that problem of serving those three billion people
that need a home, and climate change,
are a head-on collision about to happen, or already happening. That challenge means that we have
to start thinking in new ways, and I think wood is going
to be part of that solution, and I’m going to tell
you the story of why. As an architect, wood
is the only material, big material, that I can build with that’s already grown
by the power of the sun. When a tree grows in the forest
and gives off oxygen and soaks up carbon dioxide, and it dies and it falls
to the forest floor, it gives that carbon dioxide back
to the atmosphere or into the ground. If it burns in a forest fire,
it’s going to give that carbon back to the atmosphere as well. But if you take that wood
and you put it into a building or into a piece of furniture
or into that wooden toy, it actually has an amazing capacity to store the carbon and provide
us with a sequestration. One cubic meter of wood will store one tonne of carbon dioxide. Now our two solutions
to climate are obviously to reduce our emissions and find storage. Wood is the only major
material building material I can build with that actually
does both those two things. So I believe that we have an ethic that the Earth grows our food, and we need to move
to an ethic in this century that the Earth should grow our homes. Now, how are we going to do that when we’re urbanizing at this rate and we think about wood
buildings only at four stories? We need to reduce the concrete
and steel and we need to grow bigger,
and what we’ve been working on is 30-story tall buildings made of wood. We’ve been engineering
them with an engineer named Eric Karsh who works with me on it, and we’ve been doing this new work because there are new wood products
out there for us to use, and we call them mass timber panels. These are panels made with young trees, small growth trees, small pieces of wood glued together to make
panels that are enormous: eight feet wide, 64 feet long,
and of various thicknesses. The way I describe this
best, I’ve found, is to say that we’re all used
to two-by-four construction when we think about wood. That’s what people jump
to as a conclusion. Two-by-four construction
is sort of like the little eight-dot bricks of Lego
that we all played with as kids, and you can make all kinds
of cool things out of Lego at that size, and out of two-by-fours. But do remember when you were a kid, and you kind of sifted
through the pile in your basement, and you found that big
24-dot brick of Lego, and you were kind of like, “Cool, this is awesome. I can
build something really big, and this is going to be great.” That’s the change. Mass timber panels
are those 24-dot bricks. They’re changing the scale
of what we can do, and what we’ve developed
is something we call FFTT, which is a Creative Commons solution to building a very flexible system of building with these large
panels where we tilt up six stories at a time if we want to. This animation shows you
how the building goes together in a very simple way, but these
buildings are available for architects and engineers
now to build on for different cultures in the world, different architectural
styles and characters. In order for us to build safely, we’ve engineered these
buildings, actually, to work in a Vancouver context, where we’re a high seismic zone, even at 30 stories tall. Now obviously, every time I bring this up, people even, you know, here
at the conference, say, “Are you serious? Thirty stories?
How’s that going to happen?” And there’s a lot of really
good questions that are asked and important questions
that we spent quite a long time working on the answers
to as we put together our report and the peer reviewed report. I’m just going to focus on a few of them, and let’s start with fire,
because I think fire is probably the first one that you’re
all thinking about right now. Fair enough. And the way I describe it is this. If I asked you to take
a match and light it and hold up a log and try
to get that log to go on fire, it doesn’t happen, right?
We all know that. But to build a fire, you kind
of start with small pieces of wood and you work your way up, and eventually you can
add the log to the fire, and when you do add the log
to the fire, of course, it burns, but it burns slowly. Well, mass timber panels,
these new products that we’re using, are much like the log. It’s hard to start them
on fire, and when they do, they actually burn
extraordinarily predictably, and we can use fire science
in order to predict and make these buildings
as safe as concrete and as safe as steel. The next big issue, deforestation. Eighteen percent of our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide is the result of deforestation. The last thing we want
to do is cut down trees. Or, the last thing we want to do
is cut down the wrong trees. There are models for sustainable forestry that allow us to cut trees properly, and those are the only trees appropriate to use for these kinds of systems. Now I actually think that these ideas will change the economics
of deforestation. In countries with deforestation issues, we need to find a way to provide better value for the forest and actually encourage
people to make money through very fast growth cycles — 10-, 12-, 15-year-old trees
that make these products and allow us to build at this scale. We’ve calculated a 20-story building: We’ll grow enough wood in North
America every 13 minutes. That’s how much it takes. The carbon story here
is a really good one. If we built a 20-story building
out of cement and concrete, the process would result
in the manufacturing of that cement and 1,200
tonnes of carbon dioxide. If we did it in wood, in this solution, we’d sequester about 3,100 tonnes, for a net difference of 4,300 tonnes. That’s the equivalent of about 900 cars removed from the road in one year. Think back to that three billion people that need a new home, and maybe this
is a contributor to reducing. We’re at the beginning
of a revolution, I hope, in the way we build, because this
is the first new way to build a skyscraper
in probably 100 years or more. But the challenge is changing
society’s perception of possibility, and it’s a huge challenge. The engineering is, truthfully,
the easy part of this. And the way I describe it is this. The first skyscraper, technically — and the definition of a skyscraper is 10
stories tall, believe it or not — but the first skyscraper
was this one in Chicago, and people were terrified to walk
underneath this building. But only four years after it was built, Gustave Eiffel was building
the Eiffel Tower, and as he built the Eiffel Tower, he changed the skylines
of the cities of the world, changed and created a competition between places like New
York City and Chicago, where developers started building
bigger and bigger buildings and pushing the envelope
up higher and higher with better and better engineering. We built this model in New York, actually, as a theoretical model on the campus of a technical university soon to come, and the reason we picked this site to just show you what these
buildings may look like, because the exterior can change. It’s really just the structure
that we’re talking about. The reason we picked it is because this
is a technical university, and I believe that wood is the most technologically advanced
material I can build with. It just happens to be that Mother
Nature holds the patent, and we don’t really feel
comfortable with it. But that’s the way it should be, nature’s fingerprints
in the built environment. I’m looking for this opportunity to create an Eiffel Tower
moment, we call it. Buildings are starting
to go up around the world. There’s a building in London
that’s nine stories, a new building that just
finished in Australia that I believe is 10 or 11. We’re starting to push the height
up of these wood buildings, and we’re hoping, and I’m hoping, that my hometown of Vancouver
actually potentially announces the world’s tallest
at around 20 stories in the not-so-distant future. That Eiffel Tower moment
will break the ceiling, these arbitrary ceilings of height, and allow wood buildings
to join the competition. And I believe the race is ultimately on. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Michael Green: Why we should build wooden skyscrapers

  1. This promotes the fallacy that concrete is not a relatively green product, concrete and steel may make up 50% of our emissions but concrete alone makes up more than 50% of the gross product of the world in gigatons. The analysis also joyfully and neglects the whole cradle to grave life cycle of a forestry operation for a simple weight and sequestration analysis. Always be skeptical of green washing.

  2. this guy has a good point about greenhouse gases.  but heres how building everything of wood doesnt work.

    wood has structural limits. you can only build so big with wood.  a sky scraper made of wood would be a disaster.  a 30 story building made entirely out of wood is folly and you should abandon it immediately before you waste incredible amounts of money and fail at something that has been attempted many ways by many people who have all experienced the heartbreak of building massive things out of wood.

    this advice was free.

  3. During the video they talked about wood buildings being fire resistant. There are several examples throughout history where buildings and siege equipment were used to make war equipment fire proof I think that if we looked into those solutions than we would be able to fix those problems.

  4. I understand the message, but I think there are too many unforeseen problems to build so high so quick, especially from a safety standpoint. A wood log doesn't catch fire by holding a match to it, but if there's other materials present that release toxic smoke when burning, that's a moot point. If one of these caught fire, it would be very hard to put it out, no matter how much fire suppression technology was in it.

  5. I understand what he's saying but i think building a building out of wood is somewhat bad idea. I disagree with him whe he says that it helps us connect with nature. By using wood, you are destroiyng nature and other animals habitats. And also like other people said, tou wouldnt want to be in a building made of wood that might get on fire.

  6. I get what he is saying, however are we forgetting the Great Fire Of London. All the buildings were timber (Note; tech name not wood), This resulted in a drastic change in building practices. Where does he get the idea that the structural design is the easy part???? He is an Architect who has a pretty picture of what might be.

  7. Absurd. We refuse to even look at bamboo and hemp, and this guy is throwing out this adolescent idea under 'adult' pretense and consideration. There is zero sustainability in what he proposes.

  8. On what level is this a serious idea? By effectively deforesting the entire planet to make..wood skyscrapers deemed good for the environment? surely one can see the oxymoron here..

  9. I'd rather have the trees, and see how tall they grow than kill an ancient living thing that none of us truly understand. Wood is great, but the forests are even better. Deforestation is a real problem, we need more trees and less… vanity.

  10. The Japanese built with wood 1000 years ago without glue, screws, nails or magic. Through craftsmanship carved wood with precision and skill still holds buildings from 1000 years ago, even in a seismic area like japan. I'd love to see my kids children life in a save wood house!

  11. This makes sense to me after 40 years building advanced structures in wood, though certainly not skyscrapers.

    One quibble is over the natural aspect of all this. The wood structures shown when he was describing human response were real sticks of lumber, or possibly glue lam beams that most people think are "natural". But these products are from the trees he promises not to cut. The stuff he is proposing is going to be as natural as a sheet of osb. I think we are talking Franken products here that may not be huggable but could be quite useful. We are also probably getting some Franken forests with heavy GMO engineered wood.

  12. The only real solution to all of the world's problems = Control population growth (the source of all problems)! All of our technologies, innovations, policies, regulations will only alleviate or mitigate the problem. it won't solve it.

  13. Wood is actually a pretty easily renewable resource and as he said, the population is quickly urbanizing. This all makes sense.
    I think to get the most bang for the buck, a composite material would be best though. I'm no engineer, but I'm thinking a laminate of wood with a few thin steel or plastic layers incorporated for extra strength?

  14. good talk, but he should have emphasized more on the sustainability issue of our forests and how to regenrate faster than we're consuming. Would've been nice if he illustrated a wood sky scraper that incorporates nature within it e.g a man made green house as part of the building.

  15. Like everyone else, I was (and am) concerned about fire – as soon as "wooden building" is mentioned, that thought is right there in your head. But he addressed that.

    What wasn't addressed is something most Australians are intimately familiar with: TERMITES! OK, so those are not unique to us – the UK has woodworm that also ruins timber structures – but most countries don't have 7' high termite mounds. There's a really good reason a lot of Aus homes are now built with steel frames. You can treat timber with toxic chemicals to stop them, of course, but then you have a toxic building, you've created a big problem with disposing of the material when you pull it down, and the previously-mentioned fire problem has just become a toxic chemical spill.

  16. If a low-rise building goes up in flames, the biggest priority is
    getting the occupants out in time, and the second is protecting
    neighboring structures, which isn't hard if they have fire-resistant
    claddings, windows, doors and roofs, as well as no vents that could
    admit embers to unprotected spaces. But a sky scraper going up in
    flames, especially one made out of solid wood, is a massive store of
    fuel; it has the potential to melt everything around it, including the
    protective layers on neighboring buildings, exposing the wood and
    continuing the destruction. Wood can be a fine building material, but I
    predict that the first "plyscraper" fire will kill the concept all

  17. wow really good ted talk…can not wait to see these buildings challenging the current building codes. He clearly has done a lot of R&D into the topic and i find it very impressive.

  18. this kinda breaks any limits of stupidity along with any "omg how true" comments, if you love trees and nature then just leave it growing as it is and not exploiting it as a building material, with that logic you should wear fur and leather and say you love animals and want to be close to nature. Same people are crying about how to save a tree by re-using a paper towel or crap like that.

  19. Question would be how do these building act in different climates, for example where in summer you have + 20 degree Celsius and in winter it is – 20. Plus all the wind, rain, snow and other environmental things. I like the thought of this, but this needs more long run technical explanation, or can these buildings withstand all the climates we have around the world and still be safe. I'm guessing they are looking into this. I would be interested to know more.

  20. I don't think cutting down more trees will be a sustainable form of design. Currently we are already falling into a crisis of deforestation. I hope people are not forgetting that trees provide us around half of our oxygen supply. This will be dramatically reduced by cutting more trees down and having no method in which to replace them at an equivalent rate. Yes, it is true that people are replanting trees, but they grow at an incredibly slow rate that is not fast enough to replenish our oxygen supply. Worrying about a house will be the last thing on someone's mind if they can't breath.

  21. On 3.15 you are talking about the 3% and 5% steel and concrete CO2 production, is there a source where I can find this? I'm doing research to the wooden structures in buildings and want to compare them with a steel alternative


  23. good thoughts, nice solutions but i think the idea of 'housing in shyscrapers' is small view, because we are talking about future afterall and we are assuming with the growth of the urbanization we will be living skyscrapers. i dont think so. and lets say it is, this way of skyscrapers should not be the solution, but wood as structural system is ok,

  24. Nature is not a mother, calling it that is primitive and sexist.
    If you're going to call it something of the sort, at least call it "Parent Nature".
    Or perhaps just stick to using more scientifically accurate terms and simply call "Nature" – "Nature"… Wow!

  25. Structures made of steals are not cheap to build, you need to high quality of work, like putting together of the steal peaces.You are using methodes like bolt, riveting, welding etc. All these methodes needs quality work and elligible appliers. The other hand concrete is cheaper and not using high quality of work for combining the element of building. Like wood and steal materiels, they are not unified materials. You need to use another materials when you are combining them, so it is not good for higher building for the engineering terms, even if you did the mats still the concrete is best, solid, cheap, reliable and easy to shape.
    Briefly, we are using wood for building materiel but i think you cant use wood like he says, at least not now, couz u'll need higher quality of work and workers and costs will increase much higher then steal structures and reliability will decrease

  26. OK. Interesting. And now we can see these things up and going up. Good … But … ( a big but), maybe it's time for Ted to get serious on 'facts and figures' and to screen out the fluff. Example: how can 1m3 of wood store 1 ton of CO2? Check this: 1 m3 of water =1 ton in weight; that is the DEFINITION of 1 ton (at a certain pressure and temperature). Water is denser than wood. So 1m3 of wood weighs less than 1 ton. And the CO2, which is only a fraction of the wood's weight, cannot be ANYTHING LIKE 1 ton. Check the facts. TED. I believe it can cost $4000 for one ticket to your talks. Please make sure all 'facts' are sourced and reasonable. Then we don't feel patronised or hoodwinked.

  27. It would be interesting to see some statistics about forestry needs against housing needs in a scenario of high deployment of wooden skyscrapers. So, it takes less than quarter of an hour for N. American forests to build one 18-story skyscraper. How much wood can we reasonably produce and how many people reasonably house. Where?

  28. this is such a load of horse crap

    False assumptions, false data, false narative.
    Very dangerous idea

    Forests and trees are what keep our CO2 from destroying us.
    if you cut them they do not hold "more co2" like this buffoon says. They just keep what they already kept you just stop them from filtering more CO2 into oxygen.

    Start cutting Trees without reducing co2 you trully create the CATASTROPHE
    climate alarmist cry about.

    Co2 sensitivity is LOW – BECAUSE OF 3 reasons

    3) THE OCEANS.


  29. This is a real issue…believe it or not i have been
    thinking about this stuff since 2015 after visit form a site situated at hilly area's of Bangladesh….and i want to add up something more…We should really think about limited measurable cubic quantity of top soil, which are using for making bricks" .. the most ironic fact with all the latest technology, we can not create just 1 cubic soil or stone…..on the other hand we can create UNLIMITED cubic wood for our need by limited knowledge and proper planning ……thanks to Michael for bringing this issue upfront…..

  30. This guy over romanticizes building with wood. I think it's a bad idea from an ecological and a safety perspective.

  31. This video made me fall in love with timber structures, I am a Structure Engineer from Brazil and now a professor of timber structures, I also want to do my Ph.D on this area to build a better and sustainable world.

  32. So many negative comments here, that seem to be based on "hunches" and feelings and not on any solid knowledge. Wood has low weight, but is a very strong load-bearing structure compared to its lightness (aka CLT, engineered wood)
    Wood is also more fire resistant than both steel and concrete. This is due to 15% of wood mass being water, which will evaporate before the wood actually burns. In addition, logs get charred which protects the core. On top of that sustainably managed forests grow enough timber in one hour to construct a big villa, so it is by far the most green way to construct.
    In fact, projects of constructing 34-story wooden skyscrapers have already begun (as in Stockholm), but it is not one of many. As a building engineer, it makes me sad that many great projects don't get completed because of public opinion and fears, based on superficial (lack of) knowledge.
    For the interested, I can really recommend, erwin thoma's research in woods properties (he constructes wood-only houses with great fire resistant and insulation results):

  33. We had a speaker come in to our training facility (carpenters local 27) regarding this method of assembly in the greater Toronto area.

  34. What about the cost? How could these wood buildings solve the housing problem if they end up costing more than a concrete building? Besides that, what about the durability of these buildings, would that worth in a long-term?

  35. salam…ha ha ha they build already 5000 years ago but modernised and money minded fools people with stone and plastic…

  36. Michael Green why you didn't tell us how many wooden , frame buildings in USA and Canada burn down each year ??? And how many people die from wooden building apartments ?

    Here is just some true answers , he and other like him will never tell us !!!




    If accent is too much here is an English re-dub :


  38. Plus points: He is building a more "luxurious" i. e. more esthetically appealing skyscrapers with the latest technology.

    Minus points: He tries to pretend that "mother Nature" is more important than designing a good building.

  39. Sounds good, but in my personal opinion the problem will be the connections between columns, vertical bracings and beams

  40. wood has proven it's sustainability and longevity in building projects. to chemically alter the wood to meet the demands of modern construction would mean poisoning the wood, creating toxic places to process the wood and create the chemicals to treat the wood. No. no wooden skyscrapers..but keep smokin' the good dope, you really have a vivid imagination, perhaps you'll come up with a workable, applicable idea.

  41. I sub'd to TED because I thought there would be interesting content and ideas expressed. well now, I'm un-subbing, because of the drivel and nonsense that flows from my screen when ever TED is on. good luck! bye.

  42. Hi, I think we should build out of wood..
    I, like you I’m looking for a change on how we construct our buildings.
    I’m a builder and would love to work an a project whit you and if there ever a need for a personal assistant to help you achieve this, you can always give me a call, and I’ll be glad to be part of something bigger.

    [email protected]

    (405)412-2990 art.

  43. building high might demonstrate the appeal of wooden buildings to some (such as clients & developers). but build something beautiful like the gherkin & clients & developers – who are as much sheep as everyone else – will soon be clamoring for wood builds cos everyone else'll be talking about them

  44. This twit think he's a genius…he references this as an Eiffel Tower moment.
    Psst, it ain't made of wood either. I call that a clue. He should go back to playing Minecraft.

  45. skyscraper = hencoop (industrial)

    everybody should live in a seperate house with a garden.
    Next to *"mother nature" EARTH*.

  46. must everything be about Climate Change? Haven't we been through countless climate changes already, yet the polar bears and penguins still survived it seems the driving force behind the end of global warming is Zero Population Growth (( an anti-human movement).

  47. Global Warming, Climate Change and The Carbon Footprint are a myth but i agree with using wood to build skyscrapers as long as they can be proved to be totally safe.

  48. Why do we need to save our forests is a much wiser question.
    Residential building is killing our planet..its a no brainer.

  49. Old forests require hundreds of years to develop,so don't tell me they are keeping up with what they are destroying.

  50. wow awesome! I didnt think about this but it makes total sense. Wish you showed us some of the construction panels in pictures.

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