If there is a region in the German-speaking area that has lived with timber construction for generations and is also promoting ecological construction with other materials, then it is Vorarlberg in Austria. Of course, concrete is also part of it, according to Willem Bruijn, the long-standing project architect and managing partner of Baumschlager Eberle. “Concrete is good – concrete is durable, even if a lot of CO2 is initially consumed.” If the idea of recyclability of building materials is increasingly pursued in house and apartment construction, this could mean the death of architecture, says Bruijn.
Colleague Sebastian Brandner’s family home in Dornbirn, which Bruijn presented a month ago on a Tagesspiegel readers’ trip with the Berlin architecture tour operator Ticket B, seems to prove the opposite. The wooden house has stood like a one since it was completed in 2019 (timber construction: Zimmerei Gerhard Bilgeri GmbH, 6943 Riefensberg). And the architecture? It’s always a matter of taste.
Architect Brandner, who planned and built here for his family of four, got the best out of the property. The 392 square meter plot is enclosed on three sides by roads and a driveway. Brandner wanted to emulate his role model Frank Gassner. This architect stands for simplicity, restraint and quality, says the man from Dornbirn, who also conceptually attached importance to a garden, an office on the ground floor and a garage. “Not a simple room plan,” said Brandner during the inspection, who emphasized the open floor plans. The family has 150 square meters of living space at their disposal – the bedrooms at the top, the eat-in kitchen with loggia in the middle, which offers an unobstructed view of the sky. Brandner did not want to comment on the costs. He had a house built entirely of wood, which would probably be unthinkable in this technical implementation in Germany.
At the end of June, the “Coalition for Timber Construction” identified the model timber construction guideline as one of the biggest obstacles on the way to more sustainable timber construction in Germany. Competitor Reinhard Eberl-Pacan is therefore committed to the abolition of this directive. “Just by taking this measure and switching to fire protection solutions that comply with European law, the CO2 emissions in new buildings could be reduced by a further approx. 2260 megatons per year, since fewer non-combustible, but therefore also non-renewable or non-recyclable building materials would have to be used without compromising building safety The disadvantaging of timber construction through the model timber construction guideline is based on the supposedly increased fire risk of timber buildings. “Other European countries such as Switzerland, Austria or the countries in Scandinavia have been much more open to timber construction for at least a decade,” says Eberl-Pacan. During this time, neither the number of fire deaths nor the number of fire brigade deployments increased, says the fire protection expert.
After all, it is indisputable that timber construction is active climate protection. It already saves around 760 megatons (Mt) of CO2 per year compared to conventional construction. In addition, the wood used binds approx. 1980 Mt CO2/ year.
Above all, it is important to build not only single-family houses from wood, but also apartment buildings. Architects pointed this out vehemently on the Tagesspiegel readers’ trip. The proportion of timber construction in buildings with more than three floors is only four percent. The modular construction method offers additional potential, especially for faster construction: Only 20 companies in Germany would be enough to produce the modules for the 400,000 residential units that are politically demanded per year, calculated the “Coalition for Timber Construction”.
However, the special regulations in German building law still lead to high economic costs, which make sustainable building unattractive. One of them is that additional building materials such as concrete or gypsum must be used for fire protection reasons, e.g. B. to encapsulate the wood. This thwarts the goals of timber construction.
There may also be another obstacle. “Since serious forecasts assume that the softwood that has been predominantly used in timber construction so far could become increasingly scarce from the mid-2030s, further intensive research efforts are required from the perspective of the construction industry to identify the deciduous wood that is already available in sufficient quantities in our forests increasingly being able to use it in timber construction,” says Hubert Speth, head of the degree program at the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University in Mosbach.
None of this can shake the Brandner project in Dornbirn. It stands on a solid slab (“We have bad ground here”), was erected in two days and blown out with cellulose. In eighty years it will be seen whether the house made of untreated larch wood, which has turned black, is still standing or only the concrete base is left.