This paper aims at applying a direct displacement-based method to assess the seismic vulnerability of existing multi-storey wooden buildings. This procedure is consistent with Priestley's direct methodology firstly developed for reinforced concrete structures. The distinctive characteristic of the proposed method is that the system response is quantified through the use of displacements instead of equivalent elastic strengths, according to the traditional force-based approaches. Consequently, in comparison to common force-based procedures, this method cannot only be considered as a rational alternative but also as a new seismic philosophy to design or assess structures. A representative timber construction system commonly used in Italy was selected as case study. The construction system illustrated in this work was analysed in detail, with special attention given to the mechanical connections typically used. The typical failure mechanisms and the energy dissipation capacity of the structure or of its members were identified on the basis of the mechanical properties of structural parts and connections, as well as of their geometry. In the proposed direct displacement-based assessment approach, the seismic intensity that would cause the limit state to be exceeded can be calculated by means of simple formulas. Therefore, the capacity to demand ratio can be simply derived. The procedure could be used to gauge the likelihood of losses, by combining it with simple loss models to account for probabilistic aspects.