The Future of Wood in Sustainable Building: Unlocking its Potential

Sheetal Rakheja Architect Wood, with its natural beauty and remarkable properties, has been a versatile and widely used building material throughout history. It offers a unique combination of aesthetics, strength, and renewability, making it a sustainable choice for construction. However, despite its many advantages, wood has not received the recognition it deserves as a building material. In this article, with the insights provided by architect Sheetal Rakheja, we will explore the reasons behind this underutilization, the recent advancements in wood technology, and the promising future of wood in sustainable construction.

With over 23 years of experience, Sheetal has designed and completed more than 100 projects, covering an impressive 50 million square feet of built space. Her portfolio includes a wide range of projects, from master planning of large townships and mixed-use developments to architecture and interior design for corporate offices, hotels, hospitals, and residential properties. She has also been involved in research and development projects, such as “Shunya,” India’s first Net Zero Energy home, constructed entirely from waste materials.
Sheetal’s designs prioritize the harmony between nature’s elements, occupant well-being, and environmental minimal processing compared to other building materials. Its life cycle, from harvest to disposal or recycling, has a lower embodied energy, resulting in reduced carbon emissions. Moreover, wood has the unique ability to store and remove CO2 from the atmosphere, making it an effective tool in combating climate change. Active forest management and sustainable harvesting practices further enhance its environmental benefits.
Advancements in Wood Technology:
Recent technological advancements have addressed the concerns associated with wood, leading to its resurgence as a viable building material. Innovations in fire-retardant treatments, moisture-resistant coatings, and termite protection have made wood more durable and safer for construction. Additionally, the development of biobased adhesives and engineered wood products has expanded the possibilities for using wood in larger and taller structures. These advancements, coupled with modern manufacturing techniques and prefabrication, have opened new avenues for wood in building construction.
The Road to a Sustainable Future:
With the increasing global focus on carbon neutrality and sustainable design, the potential of wood as a building material is gaining significant attention. Many countries, including Sweden, the United States, France, and consciousness. Her commitment to sustainability has led to several projects receiving LEED platinum and gold ratings, setting new benchmarks for energy efficiency in the industry. With her extensive expertise and leadership in sustainable architecture, Sheetal is making a significant impact on India’s built environment. Her work inspires and encourages future architects to prioritize sustainability in their designs, creating a greener and more sustainablefuture for the industry.
The Historical Challenges:
In the industrialization era of the 19th and 20th centuries, concrete and steel dominated the construction industry, limiting the use of wood to single-family dwellings and low-rise structures. Concerns about wood’s susceptibility to fire, moisture, and termite damage, along with the perception that it required significant maintenance, hindered its adoption in medium to high-rise buildings. Moreover, the availability of factory-made products offered easier maintenance and thus became thepreferred choice for mass construction projects.
The Sustainability Advantage:
Wood’s sustainability is one of its strongest attributes. It is a renewable resource, readily available locally, and requires Switzerland, have revised their regulations to promote wood in construction. These changes reflect a growing realization that achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 requires a shift towards environmentally responsible building materials. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification has emerged as a reliable standard for sustainable wood sourcing, further reinforcing the positive attributes of wood as a green building material.
Recent Wood Tall Rise Buildings:
Several recent examples showcase the feasibility and success of using wood in tall structures. The Sara Cultural Centre in Sweden, completed in 2021, stands as one of the tallest wooden multi-storey mixed-use public buildings. Meanwhile, Australia and London are exploring composite structures with wood for medium and tall buildings, combining its benefits with other materials to optimize performance and sustainability.
Challenges and Opportunities in India:
India, with its diverse climate and available resources, holds great potential for embracing sustainable building practices. However, the country faces unique challenges in adopting medium to tall wood buildings. The absence of comprehensive codes and standards specific to wood construction, limited precedents, and concerns over fire safety and durability hinder widespread adoption. To fully leverage the potential of wood, India needs to invest in research, develop prototypes, and establish regulatory frameworks to support the responsible use of wood in its varied building typologies.

Wood is experiencing a resurgence as a sustainable and carbon-neutral building material worldwide. Its inherent beauty, renewability, and ability to sequester carbon make it an attractive choice for the future of construction. Advancements in wood technology, along with revised regulations and certifications are paving the way for its broader adoption. However, realizing wood’s full potential requires collaborative efforts from all stakeholders, including architects, engineers, policymakers, and insurers. By embracing the versatility of wood and developing a deep understanding of its construction techniques, we can create a more sustainable and harmonious built environment for generations to come.