Architectural Record BE - Building Enclosure

Designing for Durability

Strategies for achieving maximum durability with wood-framed construction
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Durability and Sustainability

Durability is a key component of sustainability. Before making a large investment in a building, it is important to consider its environmental impacts versus realistic lifespan. For example, it has been suggested that concrete should be used for buildings because it can last 100 years. However, research indicates that there is actually no significant relationship between the material used for a building’s structural system and its service life. Rather, a study of buildings demolished in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area found that most were demolished because of changing land values, changing tastes and needs, and lack of maintenance of non-structural components.2 Only eight buildings (3.5 percent) were demolished because of structural failure. In fact, wood buildings in the study were typically the oldest; the majority were older than 75 years. In contrast, more than half the concrete buildings fell into the 26- to 50-year category, with only a third lasting more than half a century. Some 80 percent of the steel buildings demolished were less than 50 years old, and half were less than 25 years old.

Overall, the fact that wood buildings had the longest lifespans shows that wood structural systems are fully capable of meeting a building’s longevity expectations; however, considering the embodied energy in demolished buildings and the implications of material disposal, the fact that wood is adaptable either through renovation or deconstruction and reuse is a significant advantage.

Many architects believe wood can add to a building’s longevity, and thus sustainability, not only because of its physical properties, but because wood buildings tend to be valuable to their occupants for reasons related to aesthetics, comfort, acoustics, and innate positive human response to wood. Marc L’Italien, whose architecture firm EHDD often uses wood materials on its projects, puts it this way: “Whenever we can, we select materials with integral finish, both from a sustainability angle and because there is inherent beauty in well-detailed natural materials. This is one of the most overlooked aspects of sustainability. It’s not about the [green rating system] points. It’s about designing places where people want to be. The more they like their environments, the less likely these structures are to be demolished. A strong following and internal flexibility allow them to be repurposed when the users and owners change over time.”

Completed in 2012, the Forté in Australia includes ten stories of cross laminated timber.

Photo courtesy of Lend Lease (developer)

Completed in 2012, the Forté in Australia includes ten stories of cross laminated timber.

Completed in 1915, the Many Glacier Hotel, located in Montana’s Glacier National Park, is still in use today.

Photo courtesy of David Restivo, National Park Service; inset photo by T.J. Hileman, courtesy of Montana State University Library

Completed in 1915, the Many Glacier Hotel, located in Montana’s Glacier National Park, is still in use today.

 

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Originally published in Architectural Record

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