Steel Bridge…Think Again!

With all of the achievements of steel and concrete in the construction market it is amazing that wood still sees the light of day! Wood is essential for residential housing but how often do you see it as part of a public structural system? What I mean by this is a new art form in the sense of Glulam wood bridges and structures. This product mimics the appearance of real wood but without the side effects of natural wood construction.

With traditional wood it is very rare to find pieces that are perfectly straight with no cupping, cracking, or other defects especially when you get to larger sizes both radially and longitudinally. Glulams are structural beams that are created by laminating smaller lumber pieces into a larger member. The adhesive used is moisture resistant making it a suitable option near water where natural wood might fail. This product allows for less trees to be harvested as it replaces the need for large timbers. Another advantage is the flexibility of the material. Manufacturers are able to create custom curves (see picture below) and custom lengths for clients. Glulam’s features and benefits far outweigh traditional lumber in today’s market.

Today Glulams are being used in unique creations such as curved roofing and bridges. This product is remarkable in terms of its abilities but reverting back to the discussion a few weeks ago regarding “fake” products, is this going to impact people’s perception of real wood construction? Obviously in the bridge below bending real wood would take an enormous amount of energy and machining to accomplish but there is an inherent value to real timbers when they are used. Think about the recent renovation of the Butler Square Building in Minneapolis’ Warehouse District, would that structure have the same effect if the designers had decided to use Glulams instead of natural Douglas fir (and might I add that it was cut from Aitkin, MN!)? Probably not but for uses such as this shopping pavilion below it creates a unique art form that is hard to overlook.

Butler Square (MPLS) with natural Douglas Fir columns and beams

Retail mall with curved Glulam roof

Works Cited:


2). Sheppard, Kenton. “Glulams supporting a bridge” South Dakota: 2009.

3). Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. “Butler Square”

4). Muller, Chad. “Laminated Timber Construction” Basel, 2000.


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