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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Urban timber construction

Thematic area: Technology, society, innovation
Analytical approach: TA brief study
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: ongoing
Current project phase: Evaluation of studies and research and market data as well as conducting interviews
Duration: 2020 till 2021

Background and central aspects of the topic

Until modern times, timber was the dominant material in the construction industry. However, timber construction was initially replaced by stone and brick buildings and, in the course of the industrialisation, by steel and concrete construction. Until the 1990s, wooden houses were mainly built in rural regions or peripheral areas close to cities as detached or semi-detached houses. It is only recently that a resurgence and further development of timber construction has become apparent. Due to the further development of building regulations and laws – particularly in the context of fire protection – as well as to the stronger focus of society and politics on sustainability aspects in the construction industry, timber construction has been increasingly finding its way into inner-city construction for several years now.

On the one hand, motives for building with timber are the ecological advantages (e. g. a better CO2 balance) compared to conventional concrete buildings. Moreover, the individual components can be easily prefabricated, thus enabling faster construction with a decrease of the construction site traffic of up to 80 %. The high vibration ability of wood also increases the seismic resistance of houses, which is relevant in many regions of the world. On the other hand, there are still some difficulties in meeting fire protection requirements and more complex approval procedures with regard to the planning and implementation of timber buildings.

In particular with regard to the refurbishment of existing buildings – which includes building measures for repurposing, addition of storeys and redensification – timber construction is gaining more and more significance. Timber is becoming increasingly suitable for multi-storey buildings. By now, wooden houses with five to seven storeys or more are being built. In 2019, the first high-rise timber building in Germany was completed in Heilbronn. It has a height of 34 metres and includes 10 storeys. Further high-rise buildings are in the planning stage. International examples illustrate the opportunities of urban timber construction, e. g. the eighteen-storey Brock Commons student residence in Canada with a height of 63 metres or the twenty-four-storey high-rise timber building “HoHo” in Vienna with a height of 84 metres.

Objectives and approach

The brief study intends to provide an overview of the challenges and potentials of urban timber construction, i. e. with regard to multi-storey high-rise timber buildings and other larger timber construction complexes. The brief study will analyse the innovation potential of urban timber construction as well as the associated TA-relevant implications. Another focus will be on the description of actors involved and the value-added chain (so-called ecosystem of urban timber construction).

The following key aspects are part of the analysis: At the beginning, a mapping of current German and international timber construction projects in urban areas will be carried out and presented in an overview. Characteristic features of these projects will be identified. In parallel, an analysis of the innovation landscape with regard to research and development, research priorities and research output on the one hand and an analysis of actors involved and value-added chains on the other hand will be carried out. The analyses will focus on identifying and describing the foreseeable direct and indirect effects on the economy, society and the environment.

For the investigation, studies, research/market data, possibly existing technology roadmaps as well as descriptions of current and planned timber construction projects will be evaluated. In order to structure the subject and to deal in depth with various TA-relevant issues, interviews will be conducted with relevant actors from both the timber construction sector and the conventional construction sector.

Project progress

The brief profile of the topic »Urban timber construction« PDF [0,74 MB] (only in German: »Urbaner Holzbau«) developed within the framework of the horizon scanning 2018 will serve as an initial basis for the project. In May 2020, the TAB consortium partner VDI/VDE-IT started working on the TA brief study. .

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