Growing interest in digital wooden buildings

Wooden buildings are on the rise. Investors are seeking more sustainable building alternatives and digital technologies are making wooden buildings cost-competitive compared with traditional alternatives.

A major shift has been taking place in recent years in construction. The use of massive engineered wood products coupled with digital design tools and manufacturing has enabled a new kind of building that offers advantages including improved health and well-being, expanded architectural opportunities and, perhaps most importantly, a building that is constructed sustainably and can even be recycled at the end of its life. After all, unlike so many materials in the construction industry, trees are renewable.

Stora Enso is currently working with dozens of projects around the world, many of which are helping regenerate urban areas. Last summer, Stora Enso reached the milestone of having manufactured more than one million cubic metres of cross-laminated timber for the first time since their mills began production in 2008.

Alongside this growing interest, digital tools are being introduced to deal with some of construction’s biggest challenges. For example, Stora Enso is piloting radio-frequency identification sensors that can provide basic information on the temperature and moisture content of a wooden panel. The idea is that sensors could send an early warning signal if moisture levels exceed a certain point, enabling a building owner to avoid long-term damage and ensure the quality of the materials so they can be re-used at the end of life. Such sensors could even be linked to building fire safety systems to create an alert for risk of fire.

The future will be about constructing buildings from renewable materials with data readily available to ensure that the same materials can then be extensively re-used in future. This will help us go a long way to creating a circular economy at a time when it’s most needed; minimising waste and pollution, keeping natural products in use, and regenerating natural systems.

The sustainability argument is also one that is gaining more interest from investors. There are short-term reasons for this, in that wooden buildings are attractive to hire out: blue-chip companies are often interested in the proven health and well-being benefits of working in a wooden space. But in the long term both investors and tenants are also demanding buildings with lower embodied carbon emissions, and wooden buildings give them clear advantages in this regard.

With the addition of new digital tools, wooden buildings can now be made so efficiently that the sustainability comes for free. In the future, it’s hard to see a better alternative than a skyline made from wood enhanced through digitalisation.