Twenty per cent of new homes in Amsterdam to be constructed out of timber

09 November 2021

David Rowlinson

Increasing the use of timber in the city's construction projects is hoped to reduce reliance on steel and concrete – materials that create large amounts of carbon dioxide during production. In turn, this is expected to help the Dutch capital meet its goal of climate neutrality, or net zero greenhouse gas emissions, by 2050.

The Green Deal Timber Construction was signed during the MRA Sustainability Summit 2021 in October. However, it will not be implemented until 2025.

As an alternative to timber construction, the deal also allows for 20 per cent of all new homes to be constructed with other biobased materials – materials that are derived from biodegradable living matter – such as hemp or cork.

To meet the agreement and qualify as a timber building, a detached house would have to be constructed with at least 80 per cent timber or biobased materials. For multistorey housing up to 10 storeys, this is reduced to 65 per cent, while multistorey housing over 10 storeys must contain at least 50 per cent.

According to the Amsterdam Institute of Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS Institute), which is supporting the implementation of the Green Deal Timber Construction, the move is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the city by approximately 220,000 tonnes a year. This is equivalent to the average emissions of 22,000 homes, it said.

Globally, the built environment is currently responsible for around 40 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce this figure, many architects around the world are turning to timber for construction, due to the material's sustainability credentials.

One of the biggest benefits of timber is that it can sequester large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere and store it within a building, offsetting the carbon emissions generated by a building over its lifespan.

"Although the use of abiotic materials in construction has literally taken us to great heights, these materials have a major impact on the environment," explained Pablo van der Lugt, a research fellow at AMS Institute.

"The latest generation of mass timber products can replace these materials one-to-one, without harming the environment," he added. "Moreover, they actually act as huge carbon sinks."

Amsterdam is not the only city to have introduced legislation that encourages the use of biomaterials. In New York, the city council has approved the use of mass timber for the construction of buildings of up to 25.9 metres tall, and in 2020, the French government agreed that all new public buildings in the country must be built from at least 50 per cent timber or other natural materials by 2022.

To support the Green Deal Timber Construction agreement, sites for new construction projects will be designated across Amsterdam. The city will also invest in the research and development of timber and biobased materials for construction, as well as ​​companies committed to helping the city achieve its goals.

While helping Amsterdam to become carbon neutral, ​​the deal also supports the city’s goal of achieving a circular economy because timber and other biomaterials are easily reused and recycled. A circular economy is an economic model that minimises consumption and waste and prioritises the continual reuse of materials.

"Biobased materials, in particular the latest generation of mass timber products, are part of the solution to make our city climate-neutral and truly circular," explained Arjan van Timmeren, professor at the AMS Institute.

Article first appeared in Dezeen.

Photo of the author: David Rowlinson
David Rowlinson

David hails from Lancashire, England and has lived in Australia since 1994. He studied Architecture at Sheffield University and also has an MBA from Macquarie University and a Master of Marketing from UNSW. Prior to joining Planet Ark in 2016 David was Marketing Manager then CEO of a major Sydney-based manufacturer of modular carpets used in all commercial building applications. His proudest achievement was the development of an industry-leading environmental sustainability agenda, including the unique Earthplus product reuse program.

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