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Cross-laminated timber behind rise in high rise wood-based buildings

Professor Gerhard Schickhofer from the Institute of Timber Engineering and Wood Technology at Graz University of Technology, Austria, has laid the scientific and technological foundation for the development of cross-laminated timber, CLT. For his discoveries, Professor Schickhofer has been awarded the 2019 Marcus Wallenberg Prize (MWP) worth SEK 2 million (≈ EUR 190 500) that will be presented by HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at a ceremony in Stockholm in October this year.

Professor Gerhard Schickhofer, TU Graz, Austria, has been awarded the 2019 Marcus Wallenberg Prize (photo courtesy Helmut Lunghammer – TU Graz).

Professor Gerhard Schickhofer, TU Graz, Austria, has been awarded the 2019 Marcus Wallenberg Prize for laying the scientific and technological foundation for the development of cross-laminated timber, CLT (photo courtesy Helmut Lunghammer – TU Graz).

Cross-laminated timber, CLT, explains the expansion of multi-storey wood buildings in the world. CLT, consists of several layers of solid wood laminations glued together crosswise measuring a length of up to 20 metres, a width of up to four meters and a thickness dependant on the purpose.

The elements are stable and load-bearing and are also easy to process, shape and even curve using modern manufacturing technologies. All these qualities have made wooden skyscrapers possible. Professor Gerhard Schickhofer is awarded the 2019 Marcus Wallenberg Prize for research and knowledge transfer behind this stable, eco-friendly wood-based construction material.

Numerous “plyscraper” projects

Many projects around the world are competing in constructing the world’s tallest buildings in wood. Brock Commons, an 18-storey student residence in Vancouver, Canada, has kept the lead after being completed in 2017.

It was however recently reported that the first tenants will move into the HoHo tower in Vienna, Austria, in June 2019. The 24 floors will house apartments, offices and a hotel, a restaurant, and a gym.

Currently under construction in Vienna Austria, the 24 storey, 86 m high HoHo Vienna (photo courtesy RWTplus).

Currently under construction in Vienna Austria, the 24 storey, 86 m high HoHo Vienna (photo courtesy RWTplus).

Even higher so-called “plyscrapers” have been proposed in several countries of which the 80-storey River Beech Tower in Chicago, USA, is among the tallest.

Industrial prefabrication enables faster onsite assembly

Professor Schickhofer and his research team have played a leading role in establishing European standards and Technical Approvals for CLT production and use in industrial applications of wood construction. CLT has radically transformed the view on construction and design in the wood building industry.

Its orthogonal, laminar structure allows applications as full-size walls and floor elements as well as linear timber elements able to bear heavy loads. Commercial softwood species such as spruce, larch or pine as well as hardwood species such as birch, ash, and beech, can be used in the engineered panels.

Since the layers of solid wood are glued together longitudinally and transversely the elements are less affected by changes in dimension due to humidity fluctuation.

Buildings made of CLT are characterised by slender wall constructions and high loadbearing capacity. They provide excellent performance with regards to fire safety and earthquake resistance. Like solid wood sourced from sustainably managed forests, CLT is a sustainable and renewable material.

A crane moving a fascade element into place (photo courtesy RWTplus).

The 24 floors in the HoHo project in Vienna use a deliberately simple construction system that involves
stacking of four prefabricated serial components: columns, main beams, deck slabs, and facade elements.
The base surface of wooden composite ceilings, which are based on wooden supports in the final facade
layer is attached to the core load-bearing structure of reinforced concrete. The wooden supports, in turn,
form a common mounting element with the prefabricated outer wall modules made of solid wood, as well
as the isolated exterior paneling in “earthy tones” (photo courtesy RWTplus).

Used as a construction material, it acts as a temporary carbon dioxide (CO2) sink and substitutes concrete and steel both of which have large CO2 footprints from production.

Ground-breaking research

In its motivation statement, the Prize Selection Committee of the Marcus Wallenberg Foundation said that Professor Gerhard Schickhofer has made “scientific and engineering contributions required to standardize the development of CLT” and enable its adoption as a building material.

Furthermore that Gerhard Schickhofer has also succeeded in “transferring scientific knowledge to practical applications. His user-friendly software tools and handbooks have had a great influence in the field.”

The Institute of Timber Engineering and Wood Technology and the Competence Centre at the University of Technology in Graz also stand out by their application-oriented research. Both organisations provide the industry with technical support, testing and training.

Gerhard Schickhofer’s passion and commitment to the field of CLT have played a key role in raising the profile of wood for the construction of massive and tall structures. His work has been seminal in interpreting the technological opportunities of CLT to architects and designers, said Professor Johanna Buchert, chairperson of the Selection Committee.

The 2019 Marcus Wallenberg Prize will be presented by HM King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden to Professor Gerhard Schickhofer at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden in October this year.

About Marcus Wallenberg Prize

The Marcus Wallenberg Foundation for Promoting Scientific Research in the Forest Industry is based on appropriations of Stora Kopparbergs Bergslags Aktiebolag. The first appropriation was made by the Annual Shareholders’ Meeting on May 12, 1980. The object of the Foundation is to encourage scientific research by awarding an international prize called The Marcus Wallenberg Prize.

Now in its 36th edition, the purpose of the annual Prize is to recognize, encourage and stimulate pathbreaking scientific achievements which contribute significantly to broadening knowledge and to technical development within the fields of importance to forestry and forest industries.

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