Building With Engineered Timber: The Graphite Apartments, a nine-story residential tower in London, is one of the tallest timber buildings in the world. It is constructed of factory-made solid-wood wall and floor panels called cross-laminated timber, or CLT.


0809-f2-1LONDON — Among the many apartment buildings in the London borough of Hackney, the nine-story structure on the corner of Provost Street and Murray Grove stands out, its exterior a mix of white and gray tiles rather than the usual brick.

But it’s what’s underneath this cladding that makes the 29-unit building truly different. From the second floor up, it is constructed entirely of wood, making it one of the tallest wooden residential buildings in the world.

It was built three years ago using laminated spruce panels, up to half a foot thick and 30 feet long, that were fabricated to precise specifications in Austria, shipped across the English Channel and bolted together on site to form the exterior and interior walls, floors and roof. Even the stairwells and elevator shafts are made from these solid panels, called cross-laminated timber, which resemble supersize plywood.

Developed in Europe in the 1990s, cross-laminated timber, or CLT, is among the latest in a long line of “engineered” wood products that are strong and rigid enough to replace steel and concrete as structural elements in bigger buildings. Already popular in Europe, CLT is only beginning to catch on in North America, where proponents say buildings made with the panels could be a cheaper and environmentally friendly alternative to structures made with those other materials.

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