New uses for wood
Illustration: Lauren Nassef | Art Direction: Jelena Schulz

In March 2017, a piece of bipartisan legislation was reintroduced in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives: the Timber Innovation Act. Its stated goal is “to find new and innovative uses for wood as a building material,” focusing on buildings more than 85 feet in height. As architects consider new applications for this renewable resource, where are wood’s frontiers—present and past?

1. Skyscrapers: Architects and designers are reconsidering wood as a material worthy of large buildings; last year, construction began on two 50-meter-tall wooden office towers in Bordeaux, France.

2. Airplanes: Up until about World War II, all planes were made of wood, including Howard Hughes’ massive, pioneering, and controversial Spruce Goose.

3. Bridges: Wooden bridges have been designed for thousands of years; the Holzbrücke Rapperswil-Hurden in Switzerland is a pedestrian bridge located near timber piles that date to 1523 B.C.

4. Bikes: Two hundred years after the first wooden bikes were produced, present-day bike shops in Portland, Ore., and Denver use CAD and machining to meticulously engineer hardwood bikes.

5. Robots: As technology evolves, scientists are factoring sustainability into robotics and swapping out aluminum robot arms and legs with bamboo.