Joint venture with Cambridge University designed to showcase potential for lightweight construction

PLP Architecture has produced proposals for an 80-storey skyscraper made of wood in a project that attempts to demonstrate the potential for lighter-weight, more environmentally-friendly high-rise construction.

The scheme, developed in partnership with the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Natural Material Innovation and engineers Smith & Wallwork, includes more than 1,000 homes as part of a 90,000sq m mixed-use development imagined as an addition to the Barbican, in the City of London.

According to the project team, the building – dubbbed “Oakwood Tower” – would use structural softwood that could be grown as a crop; be around four times lighter than concrete structures; and be quicker and quieter to build. The tower would “eventually” meet or exceed fire-resistance standards for tower blocks, they said.

The consortium said the use of timber for tall buildings would open up new design potential compared with steel and concrete, offering “opportunities not only to rethink the aesthetics of buildings, but also the structural methodologies informing their design”.

Kevin Flanagan, partner at PLP, said timber buildings had the potential to create a more pleasing, relaxed, sociable and creative urban experience. “Our firm is currently designing many of London’s tall buildings, and the use of timber could transform the way we build in this city,” he said.

Michael Ramage, director of the Centre for Natural Material Innovation, said the Barbican had been chosen as the base for the project as a way of imagining what 21st Century construction could look like amid a vision of the future from the last century.

“We believe people have a greater affinity for taller buildings in natural materials rather than steel and concrete towers,” he said.

“The fundamental premise is that timber and other natural materials are vastly underused and we don’t give them nearly enough credit. Nearly every historic building, from King’s College Chapel to Westminster Hall, has made extensive use of timber.”

Simon Smith, co-founder of Smith & Wallwork, said he believed it was “only a matter of time” before the first timber skyscraper was built.

The world’s current tallest wooden structure is a 14-storey apartment block in Bergen, Norway.