SHARE
COPY LINK

ENVIRONMENT

IN PICTURES: In Scandinavia, wooden buildings reach new heights

A sandy-coloured tower glints in the sunlight and dominates the skyline of the Swedish town of Skellefteå as Scandinavia harnesses its wood resources to lead a global trend towards erecting eco-friendly high-rises.

IN PICTURES: In Scandinavia, wooden buildings reach new heights
The Sara culture house, one of the world's tallest wooden buildings made of 20 floors, is pictured on February 22, 2022, in Skelleftea, in Vasterbotten county, north-eastern Sweden. (Photo by Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

The Sara Cultural Centre is one of the world’s tallest timber buildings, made primarily from spruce and towering 75 metres (246 feet) over rows of snow-dusted houses and surrounding forest.

The 20-storey timber structure, which houses a hotel, a library, an exhibition hall and theatre stages, opened at the end of 2021 in the northern town of 35,000 people.

Forests cover much of Sweden’s northern regions, most of it spruce, and building timber homes is a longstanding tradition.

Swedish architects now want to spearhead a revolution and steer the industry towards more sustainable construction methods as large wooden buildings sprout up in Sweden and neighbouring Nordic nations thanks to advancing industry techniques.

“The pillars together with the beams, the interaction with the steel and wood, that is what carries the 20 storeys of the hotel,” Therese Kreisel, a Skellefteå urban planning official, tells AFP during a tour of the cultural centre.

A general view shows the Sara culture house, one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings, on February 22, 2022, in Skellefteå, in Vasterbotten County, north-eastern Sweden.(Photo by Jonathan Näckstrand / AFP)

Even the lift shafts are made entirely of wood. “There is no plaster, no seal, no isolation on the wood,” she says, adding that this “is unique when it comes to a 20-storey building”.

Building materials go green

The main advantage of working with wood is that it is more environmentally friendly, proponents say.

Cement — used to make concrete — and steel, two of the most common construction materials, are among the most polluting industries because they emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

But wood emits little CO2 during its production and retains the carbon absorbed by the tree even when it is cut and used in a building structure.

It is also lighter in weight, requiring less of a foundation.

The Sara culture house, one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings with its 20 floors (Photo by Jonathan Näckstrand / AFP)

According to the UN’s IPCC climate panel, wood as a construction material can be up to 30 times less carbon intensive than concrete, and hundreds or even thousands times less than steel.

Global efforts to cut emissions have sparked an upswing in interest for timber structures, according to Jessica Becker, the coordinator of Trästad (City of Wood), an organisation lobbying for more timber construction.

Skellefteå’s tower “showcases that is it possible to build this high and complex in timber”, says Robert Schmitz, one of the project’s two architects.

The spa of the Wood Hotel, located in the 20th floor of the Sara culture house, one of the world’s tallest wooden buildings (Photo by Jonathan Näckstrand / AFP)

 “When you have this as a backdrop for discussions, you can always say, ‘We did this, so how can you say it’s not possible?’.”

Only an 85-metre tower recently erected in Brumunddal in neighbouring Norway and an 84-metre structure in Vienna are taller than the Sara Cultural Centre. 

A building under construction in the US city of Milwaukee and due to be completed soon is expected to clinch the title of the world’s tallest, at a little more than 86 metres.

‘Stacked like Lego’

Building the cultural centre in spruce was “much more challenging” but “has also opened doors to really think in new ways”, explains Schmitz’s co-architect Oskar Norelius.

For example, the hotel rooms were made as pre-fabricated modules that were then “stacked like Lego pieces on site”, he says. The building has won several wood architecture prizes.

In Sweden, a new generation of wooden buildings pushes the boundaries of tradition. (Photo by Jonathan Näckstrand / AFP)

Anders Berensson, another Stockholm architect whose material of choice is wood, says timber has many advantages.

“If you missed something in the cutting you just take the knife and the saw and sort of adjust it on site. So it’s both high tech and low tech at the same time”, he says.

In Stockholm, an apartment complex made of wood, called Cederhusen and featuring distinctive yellow and red cedar shingles on the facade, is in the final stages of completion.

It has already been named the Construction of the Year by Swedish construction industry magazine Byggindustrin.

(Photo by Jonathan Näckstrand / AFP)

“I think we can see things shifting in just the past few years actually,” says Becker.

“We are seeing a huge change right now, it’s kind of the tipping point. And I’m hoping that other countries are going to catch on, we see examples even in England and Canada and other parts of the world.”

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

TECH

What you need to know about the EU’s plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Union has approved a new regulation that would force tech companies to use a standard charger for mobile phones and electronic devices. What does this mean?

What you need to know about the EU's plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Parliament has approved an agreement establishing a single charging solution for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. The law will make it mandatory for specific devices that are rechargeable via a wired cable to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

The rules have been debated for a while, and the announcement of the agreement has caused controversy, especially among tech companies and enthusiasts. US giant Apple has repeatedly lobbied against the standardisation, saying it halts innovation.

The EU says that the new rules will lead to more re-use of chargers and “help consumers save up to €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, the bloc says.

So, what exactly are the changes?

Which products will be affected?

According to the European Parliament, the new rules are valid for small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

Laptops will also have to be adapted, the EU says.

Those devices will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port regardless of their manufacturer.

When will the changes come?

For most devices, the changes are set to come by autumn of 2024. However, the date is not yet set because the regulations need to go to other proceedings within the EU bureaucracy.

After the summer recess, The EU’s Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before publication in the EU Official Journal. It enters into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions start to apply after 24 months, hence the “autumn 2024” expectation.

Rules for laptops are a bit different, and manufacturers will have to adapt their products to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force of the laws.

Where are the rules valid?

The rules will be valid for products sold or produced in the European Union and its 27 member countries. But, of course, they will likely affect manufacturers and promote more considerable scale changes.

The USB-C cable, with the rounded edges, will be the standard for charging in the EU (Photo by مشعال بن الذاهد on Unsplash)

Why the uniform USB Type-C?

The bloc said the uniform charger is part of a broader EU effort to make products more sustainable, reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.

“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device”, EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said.

USB Type-C is a standard of charging that has been around for a while but still is one of the best options currently in the market. Also known as USB-C, it allows for reliable, inexpensive, and fast charging. A USB-C port can also be input or output, meaning that it can both send and receive charges and data.

Unlike other ports, it can be the same on both ends of the wire (making it easier and more universal in its use). It can also power devices and sends data much faster.

USB-C can also be used for video and audio connections, so some external monitors can charge your laptop and show your screen simultaneously with the same cable.

What criticism is there?

The project is not without criticism, most vocally from US tech giant Apple, a company that famously has its own charging standard, the “lightning” connection.

Apple claims that forcing a standardisation will prevent innovation, holding all companies to the same technology instead of allowing for experimentation. Still, Apple itself has been swapping to USB-C. Its iPads have already dropped the lightning standard. Its newer laptops can now be charged with the MagSafe proprietary connector and USB-C.

Apple iPhones are still charged with the company’s lightning ports – or wirelessly (Photo by Brandon Romanchuk on Unsplash)

The company’s popular earbuds and peripherals (including keyboards and mice) all charge with lightning. And, of course, the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone, also uses the company’s connection for charging.

While there have been rumours that Apple is working on new iPhones with USB-C connection (though definitely not for the next launch this year’s), the company could go away with wired charging altogether. Instead, like many tech manufacturers, Apple is improving its wireless charging solutions, even creating products dedicated to its MagSafe charging.

It won’t be completely free from the EU regulation if it does that, though. This is because the rules approved by the EU also allow the European Commission to develop so-called “delegated acts” concerning wireless charging. The delegated acts are faster processes that can be applied directly without being put to the vote.

SHOW COMMENTS