After 19th-century construction codes limited wood’s structural use—a response to devastating fires in Boston and Chicago—it seemed the future of cities’ skylines would belong to concrete and steel. But as a new exhibition at Washington, D.C.’s National Building Museum (NBM) demonstrates, wood deserves renewed consideration in the design and construction of large edifices, and engineers and architects are starting to explore the possibilities.
Modest in size yet chock-full of interesting information, Timber City is equal parts science lesson and architectural display. Designed and curated by Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, founding partners of Boston-based architecture firm IKD, the exhibition tells the story of timber construction—and the business, engineering, and environmental benefits it conveys—through the lifecycle of wood. The focus here is on mass timber: engineered products that combine multiple pieces of wood to increase structural strength, such as laminated veneer lumber, glulam, and cross-laminated timber (CLT).