Is there a future for high-rise timber buildings in Russia? — Opinion of Totan Kuzembayev, the man behind the timber eco-district in Moscow
The new technological opportunities of wood were illustrated in a presentation of the outline sketch of the eco-district that will probably appear near the Moscow City business centre in the Kamushki residential district. Sokolsky Woodworking Integrated Plant has been the key visionary in the project. The plant has been proactively promoting new materials in state-of-the-art wood construction. Totan Kuzembayev developed the architectural aspect of the project. The project was highly praised by participants at the forum and was also the subject of heated debates. We asked the architect to tell us about his project and about the prospects for the build of timber houses in a modern city.
WB365: When you received the proposal to design an urban district of timber houses, were you surprised by the future location of the project and the number of floors?
Totan Kuzembayev: I was ready for this. In spring 2017, against the backdrop of the active debates on Moscow’s renovation plans, we came up with the idea of building an eco-district, in order to demonstrate state-of-the-art technologies that can be used to build timber houses and include their potential in Moscow's development plans. We decided that there was no need to go far – the Kamushki district is nearby and we selected it. This an interesting place – if the new district is built, we will engender a visual contrast: skyscrapers and timber houses standing side by side.
I also wasn't surprised by the number of floors of the houses in the future district. We have been designing in our studio low-rise villas and cottages. However, our foreign colleagues have been creating for a long time high-rise timber residential and office buildings. I myself have seen examples of such builds. I was extremely interested and at the same time resented the fact that there was nothing similar in Russia, even though we are also a “wood power”. However, circumstances have changed, and we set ourselves the objective of designing a timber urban district. Admittedly we planned a modest number of floors – a maximum of seven floors. So if I was surprised by anything, it was the transition from the discussion of plans to implementation.
WB365: Two projects have been prepared: one for Moscow Region and the other one for Moscow. Which one did you start working on first? What is the current stage of work on the projects?
Totan Kuzembayev: Moscow district came first. We developed the concept and prepared a presentation of the project. Now we have started making a film to explain quickly in a short feature the underlying goal of the idea to all the decision makers responsible for any continuation of work in this direction. We hope to show this film in February. The second stage of the work is a district in Solnechnogorsk. Here they are projecting a district made up of low-rise houses no more than four floors high. At present we are developing the project.
However, a number of obstacles have to be overcome before these projects can be implemented. We are harmonizing relations with the local authorities and everyone who will operate the houses once they have been built. The problem is that existing technical standards prohibit the construction of timber high-rises. The standards have to be changed. We have secured the backing of the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of Industry and Trade for this to happen. Until the current rules have been changed, there will be no legal grounds for the acceptance of our houses by the acceptance commissions. Nobody will assume liability and sign the documents required for the commissioning of these houses. Moreover the standards are out of date: both the construction standards (known as SNiP in Russian) and the requirements of the fire authorities. Every specialist knows that the structural elements of products made from processed wood no longer burn: they become charred and retain predictable lifting capacities. As a result, it is sometimes the case that they have enhanced levels of fire resistance compared to metal. For the time being standards have not been updated. Subsequently, it will be hard to advance the new concepts. However, if we are to change the standards, we will have to draft concepts, show and tell... You need to start from something and find support.
WB365: Is there are any difference in principle, from the perspective of an architect, when it comes to the design of buildings based on frame and panel technology and houses from CLT panels?
Totan Kuzembayev: The only difference I can see is aesthetic. CLT panels are now in fashion, although they cost more and need to be coated with finishing. If we could leave them uncovered, and the standards would enable this to happen, then CLT panels would be good. However, in Solnechnogorsk, for example, all our houses will be coated externally in certain non-combustible materials, while only the supporting frame will be made of wood. This makes it possible to build all year round – there is no wet process. This yields certain economic benefits. Structurally the houses in Solnechnogorsk will be similar to one office building in Switzerland shown to me by European colleagues. They boasted that they would be able to let these offices for a great deal. However, I couldn’t see any wood in the building and requested that they show it to me. They removed a panel from the wall, and I saw powerful, very beautiful, glued structures. I asked: “Why isn’t this beauty shown? They responded: “Everybody knows that the office has been built with wood. Therefore people will enjoy it here and will be more than ready to rent the premises even though the rent is high.”
For some reason today, when we start assessing the result...
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