Building with Wood: Future Directions

One of humanities primary and original construction materials was wood. While its uses has been eclipsed in modern times by a predominance of other materials it has more recently begun to be used in construction, in particular, in environmentally conscious and urban situations. The renaissance of modern timber construction began in the early 1990s and has continued to grow continuously since then.

While wood as a basic raw material has in itself not changed there has been ongoing research that has given rise to enormous developments and improvements in construction technology and applications, as well as computerised calculation and manufacturing methods that have opened up new forms of design.

One of the oldest building materials of mankind thus provides innovative and interesting contributions to contemporary architecture.

Taking this as its central theme, a new exhibition “Bauen mit Holz – Wege in die Zukunft” (Building with Wood: Future Directions) has just opened at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. Showcasing outstanding national and international projects, the exhibition highlights current possibilities for ecological and sustainable wooden architecture. Some spectacular projects are being presented, including: Toyo Ito, Shigeru Ban or Frei Otto will and trend-setting urban wooden residences, for example, by Kaden Klingbeil & Berlin / Prenzlauer Berg, as well as the latest trends of wood construction on the high-rise building limit. Large-size models are accompanied by comprehensive plans, texts and photographs.

The exhibition presents these spectacular wooden architectural projects from various places around the world and which were unthinkable until recently. They also potentially provide answers to pressing questions of climate change. This is demonstrated in numerous graphics such as how wooden buildings store the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and energy-intensive conventional materials can be replaced by the use of a renewable resource.

The exhibition presents numerous projects:

Ecological Impact Assessment: Six selected wooden structures were subjected to life cycle assessment and compared with a mineral structure. The result shows the energy savings in the establishment, maintenance and operation as well as the considerable saving of greenhouse gases and thus illustrates the importance of renewable raw materials for sustainable construction.

Alternative Building Processes: Prefabrication, already long proven method, promises new benefits for today’s construction process. On show are current approaches to new construction processes, from panel production to completely prefabricated room cells.

Wooden Architecture in the Digital Age: Digitalisation has also gripped timber, in addition to streamlined production methods, it is now also possible to create hitherto unimaginable new forms. The exhibition presents these innovations and new tectonic possibilities for new wood architecture.

Wood in the Urban Context: While wood was the most important building material in many historic towns it disappeared in the 20th century as a construction material. A change seems to be under way today, however, driven by the greening of the buildings. Here, new urban city buildings in wood, or integrated with wood, are shown with examples from Munich, Zurich and Berlin.

New Refurbishment: The future of building is largely about refurbishing existing structures. Here timber is  ideal due to its lightness and quick construction methods. Examples of new facades that completely reshape existing buildings are presented.

New Dimensions: Long-span hangars, multi-storey residential, administrative and public buildings that range, in part, to high-rise building are now built from wood. On display are impressive examples which have been made possible by innovative technical solutions and enhanced fire protection methods.

Familiar material – New Aesthetics: Examples of excellent wooden architecture that give a good overview of contemporary timber construction and its special aesthetics.

The exhibition is curated by Prof. Hermann Kaufmann in collaboration with Prof. Winfried Nerdinger from the Technical University of Munich. It is presented in cooperation with the German Center for Architecture DAZ in Berlin and funded by the DBU German Environmental Foundation, the DHWR German Timber Industry Association, the Federation of German Housing and Real Estate Associations, proHolz Bavaria, the Bavarian carpentry and wood construction and the Bavarian State AöR.

Photo credit: “”. Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from Building with Wood: Future Directions.

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