Modern skyscrapers are typically made from concrete and steel, but as architect Michael Charters suggests, wood could be a viable construction material for tall buildings that would have a lower environmental impact. Charters recently designed ‘Big Wood,’ a prototype for a large-scale skyscraper made from wood for the 2013 eVolo Skyscraper Competition. The sprawling mixed-use complex would serve as a sustainable alternative to standard building materials, which are expensive and require a great deal of energy to produce.

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The construction industry accounts for about 39 percent of all man-made carbon emissions—a figure that would be greatly reduced if more buildings, big and small, were made from timber. As we learned in high school science class, trees have the ability to capture and sequester carbon, and they continue to store carbon when used as a building material. Recent studies have demonstrated that it is possible to build 20- to 30-story structures from timber, writes Charters, and hybrid systems would enable builders to build even taller buildings.

Charters’ ‘Big Wood’ concept is a prototype for a large mixed-use university complex that would be located along the Chicago River in Chicago’s South Loop. The mixed-use development would contain a mix of housing, retail, a library, and a community park. “Known as the birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago is an optimal location for a prototype in mass timber construction,” writes Charters. “Similar to the rapid innovation in building technology that occurred in the early 1900s, ‘Big Wood’ is positioned to be a catalyst for a new renaissance in high-rise construction, changing forever the shape of our cities.”

+ 2013 eVolo Skyscraper Competition