Design space exploration for comparing embodied carbon in tall timber structural systems

Isabelle Hens, Ryan Solnosky, Nathan C. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


This paper describes a parametric framework for early-stage tall timber design, which enables a comparison across a range of geometries with respect to embodied carbon of the main structural elements for two mass timber structural systems: post-beam-panel and post-and-platform. This research finds that the post-beam-panel system on average has a higher embodied carbon that increases faster as the building height increases. In both structural systems, the floors are a major contributor to the embodied carbon. The framework can inform higher resolution decisions, help designers detect broad trends and relationships in the tall timber design space, and allow designers to adapt geometries and immediately assess the impact on the embodied carbon. For each geometry, the embodied carbon of both structural systems can be compared to determine which system is more appropriate. Within each structural system, the timber elements with the largest material volume can be identified, and alternative materials can be considered. As a result, the framework permits designers to make simultaneous decisions on the structural system and the geometry from the perspective of both aesthetic and embodied carbon performance. By providing guidance and feedback on early-stage design, this paper aims to increase the recognition and application of timber as a structural material for large-scale construction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110983
JournalEnergy and Buildings
StatePublished - Aug 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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