Seeds planted for London's first wooden skyscraper

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Should it go ahead, the tower would rise to a height of 300 m (984 ft)(Credit: University of Cambridge)

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Researchers at Cambridge University's Department of Architecture, working alongside PLP Architecture and engineering firm Smith and Wallwork, have presented conceptual plans for a wooden skyscraper to London mayor Boris Johnson. If it went ahead, the timber tower would be the tallest of its kind in the world.

While it's too soon to comment as to the project's chances of actually getting built, the tower is slated for London's Barbican Estate and would, along with nearby mid-rise terraces, provide 1,000 much-needed new homes and around 1 million sq ft (304,800 sq m) of residential floorspace for England's capital.

More impressively still, the 80-story building would rise to a total height of 300 m (984 ft), making it the second-tallest building in London (after the Shard), and the tallest timber skyscraper in the world. Constructing it would be a real engineering challenge.

"We've designed the architecture and engineering and demonstrated it will stand, but this is at a scale no one has attempted to build before," says Dr Michael Ramage, Director of Cambridge's Centre for Natural Material Innovation. "We are developing a new understanding of primary challenges in structure and construction. There is a lot of work ahead, but we are confident of meeting all the challenges before us."

There would be other challenges to overcome, too – not least the concern that a stray spark may burn the whole thing down. As we've previously argued, wooden construction done correctly can actually outperform steel and concrete in a fire. Still, whether building regulators, planners, insurance companies and the general public agree on that is another matter.

The Barbican skyscraper is the first in a series of timber skyscraper proposals that are being developed by Cambridge University alongside architecture firms and engineers.

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