Wood: the growing building material of the future

Builders are using cross-lamin­ated timber (CLT) to replace concrete as the key material in modern construction with wooden buildings rising across the country, from Stras­bourg to Paris, Le Havre, Nice and Bordeaux.

26 September 2018
By Ken Seaton

Three wood-framed apartment blocks nearing completion in Strasbourg will be the highest wooden buildings in France with one at 11 floors and two others at eight. In total, they will provide 146 homes.

Using wood costs 20% more than concrete and demands a larger workforce to handle it, but it can be used in many different forms to give a low-pollution building site where 16m by 3m panels can be quickly built. In addition, much of the work on the panels is done in a factory so the site needs less storage space.

Cross-laminated wood is also used as a light and strong replacement for massively-polluting and heavy reinforced concrete beams that support many large structures.

This was vital in the upcoming Porte Brancion project in Paris where three buildings with student and young workers’ residences plus a sports hall will be built on top of and beside the Périphérique, giving 270 rooms.

Developer Woodeum said wood panels and beams are 99% natural (the other 1% being non-formaldehyde glue) and gave a robust, durable, airtight, sound and heat insulated, light-weight and fire-safe building.

They are also energy-efficient, as the firm said heat went to warm the residents, not the concrete walls, meaning considerable savings on energy bills.

In Strasbourg Deux-Rives, the Sen­sations project started in 2017 and is due to finish in February 2019. The 11-floor tower was erected exceptionally quickly, in eight weeks which is half the time of a concrete building.

Costing Bouygues Immobilier €14million, it will provide housing and shops and aims to bring “life to a new quarter with welcoming architecture that gives a desirable place to live”.

Many of the fully-equipped flats will open south on to the gardens.

Christophe Ouhayoun, of Paris architects Koz, said: “The flats will have an exceptional quality of life and many technical innovations, especially for the heating and the air quality.”

Many innovative developers are turning to wood as it is a modern-day construction ‘standard’ that fits with environmental principles and corporate social responsibility and is already disrupting conventional building practices.

It can be used in many forms with wooden joists replacing concrete ones and laminated panels made into any shape, computer cut into exactly the right size at the factory and delivered ready to be fitted – unlike concrete, which uses standardised moulds and needs lots of space while also being noisy and messy.

Woodeum says wood has a low carbon cost in fabrication and transport and, as a natural renewable carbon store – it has been stocking carbon and giving out oxygen all its life – is a natural and warm material that “gives rooms where sound and warmth diffuse differently, giving a feeling of well-being, harmony and security”.

It is an important renewable resource for France which has 170,000km2 of forests and the Fédération Forestiers Privés de France says daily growth is enough to build a 200m2 house every 10 seconds.

The Porte Brancion plan in the Paris 15th arrondissement by Hardel Le Bihan architects will open up the rather sad site above the Boulevard Périphérique with the bright wooden buildings having large glassed areas.

The expressway runs underneath one of the two much-needed residential buildings along with a multisports hall with five-a-side pitches, gym and a sports bar, while the other residence with 157 rooms will be built on the Vanves side and have a productive garden on the roof.

The project was a winner in the Paris ‘Invent the Métropole’ project last autumn so no building work has started and there is no finishing date.

Mathurin Hardel of the architects said: “The three buildings give a visual breathing space reintroducing nature into the road site. The permitted load on the slab naturally made us turn to wood because of its weight and the site causes less disruption.”

Although the Strasbourg project will be the tallest in France it will be outdone when the Tour Signal gets off the ground in Le Havre as the plan there is for a 14-floor ‘lighthouse’ to open up the Dumont d’Urville area in the urban renewal zone by the port.

Architect Marie Schweitzer says the 40m tower with raised terraced garden and 52 flats has been largely inspired by local residents.

She adds: “This tower is more than a signal. It represents the emblem of the industry of the future (wood) carried by the city of Le Havre.

“That is why we wanted it to emerge from its own source: vegetation and to detach itself from it by floating above this base which gave birth to it and to give it back its freedom.

“The trees of the garden allow, as in Japan, to measure the size of the building and to assert its greatness while recalling the human scale.”

In the south Nice will have the largest wooden office building in France when the Palazzo Méridia opens in October 2019 as a nine-floor positive- energy building at the new Nice Eco-Vallée district.

Built with 900 tonnes of wood, the building by Nexity-Ywood and Architecture-Studio will have 500m2 of solar panels on the roof as well as hot and cold water supplied from the Eco-Vallée geothermal supply.

It succeeds the Perspective office block in Bordeaux which has seven floors... but that will soon be dwarfed by its near neighbour, the just-started 17-floor 57m Hyperion tower beside Saint-Jean rail station which will have 98 homes when finished in 2020.

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