How long can wood last?

On my last trip to England I visited the cathedral in Ely and was struck by the longevity of large structural beams made from a material that I dont really think of as a millennial building material… wood. The main beams that support the 170 foot tall “lantern tower” called the Octagon are about 700 years old, and show no sign of deterioration (pictured above and below).

While some of the joinery has been updated and serviced, the main structural elements are original and have taken the maintenance gracefully.  What’s more, I am certain these are not the oldest structural wood beams in the world (Here are some suggested by commenters: 1 & 2)  Below is a photo looking up toward the Octagon that these beams support:

We are regularly researching and making estimates on how long various materials can last for the Clock project.  This cathedral reminds me that maintaining a dry environment and institutional continuity are really what makes something last on a millennial scale..


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