Japan’s builders use wood to replace steel in their fight against climate change

The sleek, modern design of the Port Plus building, measuring 44 meters in height and 11 stories high, stands out even within Yokohama’s posh Naka Ward. The 90% of its structural elements are made from wood makes it stand out among other buildings in the neighbourhood.

Obayashi engineering group built the building. This is an example how Japan’s most renowned builders are exploring wood as an alternate to concrete and steel as countries look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Obayashi estimates that carbon dioxide emissions will be about 60% higher than for a steel-frame building with a similar size over its entire life span, Obayashi states. This footprint shrinks to approximately a quarter when you account for the amount CO2 absorbed from the lumber trees.

Obayashi developed a new laminate material for the building’s beams, which can resist fire for at most two hours. This is a legal requirement. It used cross-laminated timber to make the floors and walls, and avoided welding or bolting joints. Obayashi hopes this will reduce the labor required to cure concrete.

According to government data, 13.9% of Japan’s public buildings were built from wood in the fiscal year ending March 2021. Wood makes up about 30% of low rise buildings.

Overall, however, construction of structures four stories or more in 2020 was dominated by wood.

This is beginning to change. Tokio Marine Holdings, an insurer, announced this month the construction of the new headquarters building from wood or a hybrid material. According to the company, the building will be the largest in terms of wood use.
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