Today I realized the experience of living in my apartment in Seattle is very different from that of Hong Kong. In which, I found it confusing because I am living on the top floor of a podium style 5-over-1 building which should resemble my experience living in Hong Kong, even though I lived on a much higher floor. Then when I recalled the construction of AVA University District by AvalonBay Communities, Inc., I came to understand the reason. It is the touch of the building as it is structurally made out of wood from the second floor up, compared to the complete concrete building I lived in Hong Kong.
Curiosity drove me to ask around and one told me that such developments are easier to obtain building permit because the government has plentiful experience reviewing and approving them. Curiosity drove me even further to find out what are the benefits of wood construction. I came across this website. However, to me, it could not qualify as an answer since I see more benefits in constructing with concrete.
On one hand, in order for a piece of wood to be qualified for construction, it needs to go through many treatments, including trimming, sanding, adding fire retardant (which also requires many processes and resources to produce), etc. Also wood is inarguably less durable and stable than concrete due to its superior chances to decay (from moisture or pests) and its inferior solidity. Wood’s inferior sturdiness requires more connections between materials for the building to erect properly and be structurally sound, causing the buildings to be limited in height, and to be boxy, block-like structures that require larger lots (and bore anyone who looks at them long enough). And let’s not forget that wood comes from trees. Harvesting trees means a removal of neutralizers of CO2. While some may argue that trees are renewable because you can plant them, I would argue that how fast newly planted trees can grow to have the same CO2 neutralization rate as their harvested counterparts.
On the other hand, concrete has relatively lower CO2 impact since it is not made from harvesting trees (causing long-term impacts), and its CO2 impact only occurs during its production (See Here). Moreover, its sturdiness allows structures to be built taller with innovative building designs on smaller lots.
Then, despite the troublesome building permit process, why would developers not constructing buildings with concrete? 5-over-1 buildings are usually apartment complexes that are speculative developments where, drawing from A-P Hurd and Al Hurd’s work, “versatility, low upfront cost, and market standardization are much more important than innovation.” While focusing on the high cost-per-unit, they are missing the opportunity to much lower life-cycle costs of concrete structures from their durability and less maintenance/repair requirement.
I believe by reducing the obstacles in obtaining building permits and creating incentives for concrete buildings, more developers will be motivated to construct with concrete and more taller buildings on smaller lots will become the norm, reducing the scarcity of housing unit, the unaffordability of housing price, the landmass required for construction, the barriers to more architectural innovations, the overall CO2 impact, the overall life-cycle costs, etc.