Brazilian architect Helena Tourinho is pushing for greater use of timber in social housing projects, with timber ideally suited for Brazil’s “large-scale and cost-effective social housing projects.”
She points to cross-laminated timber and OSB panels, which drive a global prefab construction surge.
“Prefabrication offers advantages such as faster construction and a cleaner construction site environment, which can be particularly beneficial for social housing projects.”
The changes resulted from the Brazilian Association of Technical Standards – or the ABNT – which published updated standards with a significant interest in industrial and commercial construction nationwide.
According to The Brazilian Association of the Mechanically Processed Timber Industry (ABIMCI), the new technical standard “is a significant achievement for the timber industry and the civil construction sector.”
However, Ms Tourinho said that while wooden houses have a history in Brazil, they have ceded ground to concrete’s versatility.
Nonetheless, timber is lighter than concrete; it demands less foundational support, resulting in greater cost efficiencies during construction.
“This is where timber can take centre stage as the primary construction material.”
Using “assembly” construction systems, builders have greater flexibility to reconfigure and expand spaces – a concept called incremental construction popularised by Alejandro Aravena in his work ‘Elemental.’
“This approach combines prefabrication using sustainable materials, which reduce the overall construction material required, with the potential for gradual expansions by residents themselves over time,” she said.
“This integration addresses construction’s technical, economic, and symbolic aspects.”
Brazil is looking to mass timber, with recent examples of the latest McDonald’s Sao Paolo restaurant and the Hanger Museum.
In 2020, the country’s first high-rise building was constructed from imported Austrian CLT panels, locally sourced GLT columns, and beams for DENGO, a Brazilian chocolate manufacturer.
Brazil has great potential to supply engineered industrialised GLT and CLT products worldwide. In late 2022, Urbem opened the country’s first combined CLT and GLT mass timber plant with a production capacity of 50,000m³ of CLT and 50,000 m³ of GLT.
“From these volumes, it will be possible to build more than 500,000 m² of sustainable buildings in Brazil and around the world,” Urbem said.
Whether timber should be the primary choice for social housing depends on the extensive and detailed program requirements.
“Nevertheless, it should be a carefully considered option, and construction methods should be developed to accommodate it.”
According to Ms Tourinho, examples from abroad demonstrate the construction potential of timber systems without compromising aesthetics and finishing.
“Universities, experimental sites and industry partnerships play a role in driving this shift in construction practices.”
Brazil’s vast pine plantations comprise two southern yellow pine species – slash pine (Pinus elliottii) and loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). In Brazil, they are called just ‘yellow pine’.
The pines have a combination of wood properties that permit use in a wide range of products.
This fast-growing group of species produces some of the most robust wood. Its high density gives it natural strength, weight, impact and wearing resistance.
Estimates obtained by Wood Central show forests in Brazil cover 9.5 million hectares, with 70.1% located in the country’s south and southeast regions.
Among the species planted are 7.3 million hectares of eucalyptus and 1.8 million hectares of pine.