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Technical, economic and structural possibilities of timber explored at the Pinakothek der Modern
Graeme Mann & Patricia Capua Mann Architectes, Double gymnasium, Borex-Crassier, Switzerland, 2007 © Thomas Jantscher.

FRANKFURT.- The United Nations have proclaimed 2011 the »International Year of Forests«. On this occasion the Architekturmuseum in cooperation with the Department for Timber Construction at the TU München is presenting in an extensive exhibition entitled »Building with Timber – Paths into the Future« the technical, economic and structural possibilities of the material. Wood has acquired an importance as a building material that, only a few years ago, would have been unimaginable. Since the 1970s, a growing global awareness of the need to use resources sparingly and to follow certain ecological principles has introduced a new way of thinking in the building industry, too. Research into building technology has brought about major improvements in the fire safety and insulation against noise of timber buildings, while computer-aided calculation and production methods make possible entirely new forms of design. Thus today, one of the world’s oldest building materials makes decisive contributions to an architecture that uses resources more sparingly; a familiar material is presented in a new kind of diversity. These are the contents that shape the exhibition Building with Timber – Paths into the Future, which aims to convey this transformation to a broad public in a comprehensible and descriptive way.

The description begins with the forest, which provides the material, but also, above and beyond this, plays an important role in securing the existence of life on our planet. Around one-third of the land area of the earth is covered with forests, which could be described as materialised solar energy. They develop through the process of photosynthesis, in which carbon dioxide is bound and oxygen released. The forest is therefore a decisive climatic factor and a giver of life, whose products provide work and a livelihood for around 1.6 billion people. In order to maintain this importance, forests have to be cultivated and looked after sustainably. This has been regulated by law in Germany for a long time; significantly, the well-established guiding motto for ecological thinking ‘sustainability’ originates from forestry. Through greater use of wood, a ‘second forest’ could be planted in our towns and villages that would make a sizable contribution to binding carbon dioxide and improving the climate.

After a description of the basic principles of timber construction, wood’s ecological and energy potential is demonstrated using scientific examinations as a basis. This is followed by a presentation of the technological potential. Today new production methods allow completely new ways of building in wood, frequently making it superior to other building materials in economic and energy terms. The final section presents a number of selected international examples that provide an insight into the new diversity of architectural expression and design possibilities. The projects shown have been chosen according to their informative value on the various topics as well as to their architectural qualities. The focal point is the potential of modern timber construction for larger buildings, the domain of single-family buildings has been excluded.

For a long time, the representatives of modern architecture saw wood as a conventional material that, they believed, could not express new, contemporary concepts. The latest developments have made this dismissal of wood in favour of materials with (allegedly) a stronger and more modern technical expressiveness completely obsolete. On the contrary: wood today can be described as the exponent and guarantee of building that looks to the future.

In the accompanying publication nine renowned experts analyze the ecological importance, the technological potential as well as the new aesthetics of the familiar building material. 50 selected international examples demonstrate the new digital production methods and the architectural variety of modern timber constructions from low-energy houses and wide-span supporting structures to high-rise construction.

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