Fashion for wooden housing

Wooden construction
• modern,
• high quality,
• aesthetically elite
should be the best sign of Poland,

says Professor Jarosław Szewczyk from the Faculty of Architecture,
at the Białystok University of Technology
Prof. Jarosław Szewczyk, fot. Unihouse SA
Prof. Jarosław Szewczyk, fot. Unihouse SA

What are the advantages of timber housing construction? Is there fashion for this kind of construction in the world? Will we have wooden skyscrapers in the coming years? What is the future of modular construction?

All these questions are answered by Professor Jarosław Szewczyk, the architect from the Faculty of Architecture at the Bialystok University of Technology.

Does housing construction with the use of wood have bad PR in Poland?

Is it true? Why would it be so?

Flammability of houses made of wood was the main concern for several centuries, until almost the end of the 20th century. Fires used to ravage whole villages or even towns, and lumber buildings were blamed. As stated long ago by Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski, a Polish Renaissance scholar, humanist and theologian: “It is rare to find a house in Poland that would last for thirty years; only few survive conflagrations.” That is why the society negated wood as a building material for ages.

A brick house used to indicate high society status of its owner. Durable masonry could carry the trappings of style and design. For that reason, wooden houses were every so often plastered and decorated just like those made of brick.

This trend has been changing. What are the advantages of wood technology when compared to those associated with concrete or reinforced concrete?

In actual fact, there can be applied several dozens of construction technologies based on the use of wood. For building large cubature objects, there exist technologies based on the use of glued laminated timber or wood-concrete composites. It is worth emphasizing that such constructions are much more fire resistant than those made from concrete or steel.

In small-size constructions, including those residential, there are applied modular frame solutions – light, easy and quick to assemble. Building technology of this kind does not involve using water, so any building can be quickly put into use with no risk of moisture excess or fungal infection in the walls. What’s more, modular houses can be easy modernized any time. Besides, they are perceived as environment-friendly. And rightly so, as for example, wood impregnation technologies used today are way better and „cleaner” than those used a decade ago.

Prof. Jarosław Szewczyk, fot. Unihouse SA
Can we say that in the world, there is fashion for wooden construction? By who these trends are supported? What bold visions are shaped by architects?

For about four years we have been observing a trend for constructing large wooden buildings. This is fashioned by the world’s best architects, especially Japanese, such as Shigeru Ban. The trend has been also expressed by the projects of wooden high-rise buildings. As yet, there have been erected several wooden buildings worldwide, usually with a dozen or so storeys. On the other hand, however, much more daring visions have been made real – for instance, a wooden skyscraper W350, 300-meter high, intended for the headquarters of a Japanese company Sumitomo. This construction will be completed in 2041.

Indeed, if such daring architectural visions are brought to life, what is the obstacle for broader implementation of such concepts?

First of all, it’s about inertia of legislation, which is overly cautious when it comes to wood as a construction material. Secondly, it’s about the costs, even though they are quickly decreasing. Every year, wooden constructions get cheaper and, at the same time, the solutions based on wood get better and better. Thirdly, it’s about habits. Constructors and architects do not always keep up with new opportunities provided by continuously improved technologies as regards the use of the so-called „engineered wood” for constructional purposes. Engineered wood products are designed and manufactured to maximize the natural strength and rigidity of wood. For example, some time ago, there was published information on a relatively inexpensive method for wood impregnation, increasing wood durability tenfold, developed at the University of Maryland, USA. Such technology certainly opens new horizons, unknown before.

Can prefab construction (with the use of wood components) be the future of construction?

It seems advantageous when compared to increasingly expensive typical construction technologies.

Contrary to what we were be taught during Poland’s socialist era, prefab construction can be – and usually is – solid, confirmed by reliable factory standards developed by construction tycoons, sustainable, and above all, quick to assemble, hence – potentially cheap, at least in relation to its quality. The more prefab buildings are constructed the lower their unit cost is.

US Army builds with the use of modules. Large chain stores are built with the use of modules consisting in wooden prefabricates. In Western countries, exclusive retirement homes, student dormitories and, more and more often, multi-family houses are built with the use of modular technology. It is obvious that prefab construction is a method that is becoming increasingly popular. By the way, in the city of Bielsk Podlaski, there is located a modular house factory Unihouse, who have made a great contribution to prefab construction.

Prof. Jarosław Szewczyk, fot. Unihouse SA
Can timber housing construction be as popular in Poland as for example in Scandinavia or the U.S.A. ?

Yes. Poles tend to change their opinion about the use of wood in housing construction, seeing that wood houses are valued worldwide. Polish architects are also changing their attitude. During the last decade dozens of different architectural competitions for wooden modular houses were organized all over the world. Some time ago an exhibition of wooden skyscraper projects was presented in the Roca London Gallery.

We cannot ignore this trend and be left behind. Wooden construction – but it’s modern, high quality and aesthetically elite – should the best sign of Poland. Among others, I have in mind intelligent wooden houses with equipment controlled remotely or automatically, as well as passive houses, energy self-sufficient houses and turnkey houses with a long-term warranty.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you.

The interview was conducted by:

Wojciech Jarmołowicz


Unihouse SA