Brazil Looks at Large-Scale Timber Solutions for Housing Crisis

In November 2022, Urbem opened South America's first CLT and GLT plant with a combined capacity of 100,000m³

Sun 01 Oct 23


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.”

Last week, Wood Central revealed that Brazil increasingly embraces timber for faster and greener buildings.

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.

Last week, Wood Central reported on Brazil’s Tecverde timber frame plant, considered one of the country’s most automated wooden frame companies, saving up to 85% in waste products and reducing CO2 emissions by more than 80%. (Photo credit: Tecverde Brazil)

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.”

The Hangar Museum in Brazil stands as a testament to the power of mass timber construction, showcasing the potential of sustainable materials and state-of-the-art design techniques in addressing complex climatic and structural challenges. (Photo credit: Pablo Casals Aguirre)

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.

Urbem’s CLT and GLT production plan was opened in November 2022. (Photo Credit: Supplied by Urbem)

“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.” 

The Urbem CLT construction process. (Image Credit: Supplied by Urbem)

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.

Forests play a crucial role in preserving and protecting Brazil’s ecosystems. (Image Credit: Supplied by Urbem)

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.


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    Wood Central is Australia’s first and only dedicated platform covering wood-based media across all digital platforms. Our vision is to develop an integrated platform for media, events, education, and products that connect, inform, and inspire the people and organisations who work in and promote forestry, timber, and fibre.


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