Introduction

 

In the upcoming series of articles, I will address issues related to durability and sustainability in solid wood construction and why they are so connected to the value of the building.

In this introduction, I will briefly focus on the reasons why these two aspects are often underestimated in favor of the lower cost.

In the following articles (that will be published here in the weeks to come) I will explain how durability and sustainability both work as interdependent aspects and what is their function to the value preservation over time.

Furthermore, I will engage in the modalities dictated by the actual needs of contemporaneity and how they are re-defining and renewing construction rules.
We will start with observing the latest design criteria, passing through the innovative implementation of an efficient supply chain system, to the flexibility and plurality of functions over time, and a radical transformation in the use of energy; ultimately, we will explore the possibility of reusing materials through a new vision of the circular economy.

All these interconnected elements not only disrupt the conventional construction process; they also define new qualitative parameters increasing its value, based on a new usability concept, focused on the performance and well-being of its inhabitants.
Owning or living in a long service life building should be in the interest of every stakeholder.
Quite often, its value is debased from the onset because the guiding construction criteria prioritize the lowest possible cost over quality, durability and sustainability.
The legitimate need of spending less and not wasting money, which guides this criteria, is unfortunately misleading. Focusing on rock-bottom costs means devaluing at once other essential aspects, such as quality and time.
As for buildings, this is especially true considering that, we literally, live inside them. When built with care and quality, they will give us back the priceless benefit of living in a healthy and pleasant environment.

If the cost is the price we are willing to pay for an asset; its value it’s much more.
Its value is the consideration we attach to it, or rather its importance, meaning, or usefulness, according to our own motivations.
Nonetheless, the building value is a highly critical matter that needs to evolve and last in time. In most cases, the approach that focuses on most economical cost, has a long series of implications: from design choices, to the sequential design patterns, to the identification of the materials and the team hired for its construction.

This set of decisions could profoundly affect the durability of the building and, therefore, its value, from the very beginning. In economics, the distinction between consumer goods and durable goods has always been clear; the difference is intuitive. In the first case, the value ceases with the consumption of the good; in the second case, it lasts and grows over time. Nobody would have doubts about assigning a building to the latter category. Still, when all the criteria focus on lowering costs, we must be aware that the definition between consumer and durable goods becomes a grey area, leading to a significant reduction in the service life of the building.

When this occurs, it is like a side deal was established between the builder and the buyer. Those who build make the building attractive for its low cost, those who buy, in many cases, are aware of it and know that they will have to pay a considerable sum over time, to keep the building in acceptable conditions.

When we talk about the durability of a building, several parameters come into play, first of all, those relating to its service life. Other parameters may be the need of updating the building to new functions or to renewed safety standards, or the change of conditions and habits of those who live in or use the building. Not least the considerations on its aesthetic correspondence to the current trends.
All of these parameters have to do with an economic term: obsolescence.
With aging, properties, or buildings in this case, lose efficiency and commercial value over time1. The challenge is how to counteract the elements that lead to obsolescence over the building life. There are no magical solutions, only approaches that, if properly considered, will lead to keeping the building in perfect efficiency and at its original potential for the duration of its useful life. Another often unconsidered aspect of a building is its rigidity. This doesn’t refer to structural elements, but to functional rigidity.
A building, when conceived and designed conventionally, responds to a set of customer needs, and as often happens, these needs change over time, for reasons often independent of the individual’s will.
The rigidity in this regard starts from the original inputs shared in the design phase and subsequently from the development of further needs that require renovation and therefore “new” additional costs.

Once the design foresees the use of traditional materials such as concrete or bricks, we will face many more limitations to the adjustments, and these will make their transformation much more expensive. Otherwise, opting for a more natural and flexible solution, such as the new mass timber structures, we can both conceive these changes in advance and implement them through a more extensive deployment of the structural elements. In doing so, we allow the original partitions to be removed in the future, and replaced with a different arrangement of the living spaces. Through these new opportunities, we can guarantee the changes that will take place throughout our lifetime, and that of the building, will be neither difficult nor expensive. 


Cover image: Valle Wood office building, constructed in massive wood, Oslo, Norway