Reflecting on Women in Construction (WIC) Week (March 1 – 7, 2020), Swinerton spotlighted the history of our women in Mass Timber construction and what started them on their path to becoming leaders in the mass timber movement.

Women’s History Month has evolved since its beginning as a week in 1995, now a yearly proclamation from the President of the United States designating the month of March as Women’s History Month.

Swinerton celebrated WIC week by hosting four events throughout the week, each with the theme of connecting the past and present of growth of women in the construction industry. The week was kicked-off by breakfast and a presentation about the women of Swinerton, the future growth of women in the industry utilizing enrollment rates from our partner universities, Oregon State University and the University of Nebraska, and highlighting women from Portland’s construction past who broke early barriers. A jobsite tour of the Wingspan Event and Conference Center project took place the following day with women from Swinerton discussing their shared experiences and interests in the construction industry.

Later in the week Swinerton joined forces with the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) to host a discussion on the roles and impact women have in timber construction. Since 1953 NAWIC has been working to enhance the success of women in the construction industry. As of 2018 there were 1,106,919 women in construction, making up 9.9 percent of the construction industry workforce in the United States. This marks a 37 percent increase in the total number of women in the construction industry sector since 2010.

The event included presentations from five women with the Swinerton Mass Timber team: Erica Spiritos, Mass Timber Preconstruction Manager, Lauren Magasko, Virtual Design and Construction Engineer, Cathy Gutierrez, Project Coordinator, Taylor Cabot, Project Manager, and Rose Gensichen, Project Engineer.

Each presenter touched on several points related to their role: early childhood development, education, past work experience, current work experience, and how these elements enable them to shape the future of mass timber construction.

To get the general scope of the presentations we asked Lauren, Rose, and Taylor to touch on their most identifying points.

Education – Lauren Magasko

The first time I remember noticing and appreciating architecture came during a family vacation when I was 11 or 12. We stopped to tour the Falling Water building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and I began to wonder how it was possible to build a house on top of a waterfall.

I attended Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, and earned a B.S. in Architecture and a Master’s in Architecture. My introduction to mass timber came during my senior year studio project working on a design competition called Timber in the City. Students submitted their designs focusing on exploring the use of wood as an innovative building material for a mixed-use project in Brooklyn. At the time of the competition, I had no idea I would end up in this industry today.

Current Experience – Rose Gensichen

I began working with Swinerton as an intern in the summer of 2017, focusing mainly on tenant improvement projects. Once hired as a project engineer, I transitioned to strictly mass timber, recently working on our Lincoln City Police Department project. Usually, when you think about Mass Timber, you imagine a giant Lego set, but in this case every wall we placed was a unique shape and size, resulting in a challenging but dynamic product.

Timber is beautiful to build with but unfortunately carries many assumptions with it. A few years ago, during a time when the International Building Code (IBC) was revising timber building codes: there was a statement made from a very large concrete corporation, “Simply put, just because wood is abundant does not mean its use should be incentivized for construction projects like schools and multifamily housing. Wood rots, molds and, worst of all, it burns.”

The statement said “Wood Burns” – actually, wood chars. Mass timber is a fire-resistant product. During fires, exposed mass timber chars on the outside, which forms an insulating layer protecting interior wood from damage. Think about this the next time you’re sitting around your campfire and how long that giant piece of wood you found burns!

The statement said “Wood Rots and molds” – CLT, like timber in general will rot and mold when excess moisture is present over long periods of time. However, there are ways to prevent this, which are standardized across the industry. Every job is built with a CLT protection plan – including how to keep the products at a maintainable moisture content utilizing sealers and consistent monitoring.

The statement also failed to touch on the “healthy building” aspect of mass timber building showing reduced illness and absences among workers as well as higher worker productivity.

The Future of Mass Timber – Taylor Cabot

There IS room at this table. There are not experts in Mass Timber; we are all learning and growing.  No one can tell you, “this is the way to do it” or “we have always done it this way.”  So, any idea can be brought to the table, and any person can bring it to the table.  This is true no matter your age, experience, gender, color, or ethnicity.

I didn’t set out to build record-breaking buildings. I wanted to build something I was passionate about, and it seems these projects keep finding me. I believe we should be building in mass timber and that women are well-suited for this way of building.

Women in Construction week came to a close on Friday (March 6) afternoon as the entire office gathered to celebrate our Women in Construction with a happy hour at the office of our Swinerton Mass Timber team.

Thank you to our Women in Construction, we appreciate the hard work you put forth every day and are committed to doing our part to always support you.