BLOG: Brutal wood

14 March 2024

By: Ir. Aldo Vos

After an era when construction, which had to be primarily economic, was often brushed aside, I now see a new kind of brutalism emerging with the wood building revolution. The combination of CO2 emissions, toxicity, carbon footprint, detachability, origin and reuse is enormous and choices are not easy. Just ten years ago I designed my first wooden building, a school for special education, and I had to revise all my ideas about construction and floor thicknesses. But the big winner now is clear. Wood is hot!

Environment and comfort

In the end, that school became a beautiful building in which the wood construction defines the interior of the school and gives a tremendous peace of mind for the children. Everyone now knows that the environmental impact of the built environment is enormous and this is now forcing us to thoroughly review the material use of buildings. Moreover, the caressability of wood is irresistible and everyone wants to show that. Also, the dimensions of wood construction are such that it cannot be brushed away behind a system ceiling or layer of stucco. Wood is a natural product and you have to take that into account in your design and detailing.

Ideals and use of space

Recently I saw the documentary “Proof of the pudding” about Herman Herzberger and his masterpiece Centraal Beheer in Apeldoorn. What stands out is the vitality of both Herzberger and his ideas about the use of space. A young Herzberger carelessly explaining that people should take possession of the space he gives them. A little later I read “Totale Ruimte” by Anette Jansen about the life of Jaap Bakema. A wonderful book that does not so much put down the architecture as the life and thought of Bakema. Again, an architect who transforms his ideals for society into space. Bigger gestures than Herzberger’s, but just as sincere.

Construction material

Although there are major differences between Herzberger’s and Bakema’s architecture, in both you can also see the powerful connection between architecture and construction. The space is made by the construction, usually concrete. With Herzberger this formed a multipurpose structure, with Bakema impressive folding roofs or floating floors. As a construction material, wood is unimaginable. So let’s use the properties and dimensions of wood to create new architecture.

Tough wood architecture

Tough architecture in which the structure is again clearly readable and gives structure to the space. An architecture that stems from nature and also integrates nature and landscape into the built environment. You can, like the young Herzberger, use it to design beautiful structures that provide space for multiple uses, or, like Bakema, make grand heroic gestures. I see both possibilities popping up all around me.

Innovation power

It makes me optimistic about the innovative power of architecture and therefore also a little about the opportunities to combat climate change. In Amsterdam, we are currently renovating an enormous concrete colossus from the 1980s for ABN AMRO, with 30,000 m2 of new construction entirely in wood. That large companies are choosing this shows that we can make huge progress towards a more sustainable world.


Ir. Aldo Vos