Wood’s Many Wonderful Uses
Much fanfare has been made of the advent of cross-laminated timber, a revolutionary composite material that has permitted architects and builders to construct increasingly higher towers. It seems that every few months a new project is introduced that breaks the former height record.
While CLT is a relatively new technology, wood as an architectural element cannot be substituted when it comes to its carbon imprint and natural beauty. From trusses to corbels, rafters and decorative panels, structural wood offers an excellent strength-to-weight ratio while creating a distinctively beautiful built environment.
A recent study in Sweden found that solid hardwood flooring can significantly reduce a structure’s carbon footprint over its lifecycle compared with engineered flooring or synthetic materials: “The study shows that floor refinishing in most cases can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 75% compared to new flooring. The main reason is that refinishing enables continued use of existing flooring by using a relatively small amount of product as well as it needs limited processing compared to the requirements for new flooring.”
Green Freight & Transit
Trains are among the lowest impact forms of land transport, especially when compared to trucking or air. To this day, railroad systems depend almost entirely on wood as an indispensable component: cross ties. Wooden ties continue to be the material of choice, representing 93% of track applications in North America.
Low-Impact Access & Platforms
Sometimes called “swamp mats,” these assemblages of heavy-duty timber allow vehicles to access remote and environmentally-sensitive areas like wetlands without causing serious damage. Towers and rigs depend on platforms to avoid sinking into humid soils. Wooden construction is durable, low-cost, reusable and, unlike polymer composites, are biodegradable.
Keeping the Ocean at Bay
As oceans continue to rise, cities and infrastructure must be increasingly protected from flooding. Wood is often the go-to material due to cost. Tropical woods have evolved in environments with extreme levels of humidity and exposure to fungi and pests, adapting extraordinary physical characteristics to prevent rot and decay. Heavy-duty tropical timber is commonly used for dock pilings, marine platforms and groynes.
Some of our most beloved historic infrastructure incorporate large volumes of wood. The Brooklyn Bridge Forest is forging a link between the iconic bridge and forest communities in the northern region of Guatemala. The initiative, proposed by the Pilot Projects Design Collective, proposes the sourcing of 11,000 hardwood planks for the bridge’s upcoming renovation. The project seeks to nurture the sustainable management of a large swath of Guatemala’s remaining rainforests, build rural livelihoods, and foster environmental consciousness among forest communities.
For furniture, hardwood is unrivalled for its natural beauty, boasting a wide variety of hues from white to dark brown. Certain species are renowned for their unique red, yellow or purple color. Morever, each species has a characteristic style of grain. Even within a given species, grain and hue can vary widely. Even natural imperfections, such as knots, warping or mineral streaks, can add sought-after character to woodwork. Who hasn’t been awed by a centerpiece hewed from solid wood and beautifully finished? It’s no wonder that live-edge slabs are often the material of choice for corporate boardrooms.
Tonewood Musical Instruments
Imagine a violin or acoustic guitar made from plastic. Even if the acoustic quality could be replicated, there is something irreplaceable about traditional tonewoods. Mahogany and rosewood are two of the preeminent woods used for instruments. Click here for a demonstration of guitars made from these two species groups played back to back. However, mahogany and true rosewoods of the Dalbergia genus and listed as threatened due to centuries of over-exploitation. Dozens of lesser-known species offer excellent acoustic properties each with their own nuances. We’ve compiled a list of hardwoods in our region with tonewood potential. Click on the links to listen to how they sound.
- Spanish Cedar (Cedrela adorata)
- Santa Maria (Callophylum brasilensis)
- Hormigo (Platymiscum spp)
- Monkey Pod/Rain Tree (Samanea saman)
- Tigerwood (Astronium graveolens)
- Nargusta (Terminalia amazonia)
- Chechen (Metopium brownei)
- Katalox (Swartzia cubensis)
- Ziricote (Cordia dodecandra)
- Bocote (Cordia alliodora)
- Mango Wood (Mangifera indica)