Last year, Oregon State University completed a long-range expansion plan for its Cascades satellite campus in Bend calling for the construction of entirely net-zero-energy structures on a former pumice mine and landfill.

The first major project of the initiative is now in the design stage as SRG Partnership works with Catena Consulting Engineers and construction manager/general contractor Swinerton on a four-story, 50,000 square-foot academic building.

A host of green strategies – including a photovoltaic solar array, an exterior shading system, radiant heating and cooling systems, gray water storage, and other active and passive systems – are expected to ensure the building produces more energy than it consumes.

“We’re pretty excited about this project for a variety of reasons,” SRG Partnership principal Carl Hampson said. “It’s very aspirational with what the university is trying to do.”

An ambitious master plan calls for the construction of dozens of new academic, residential and student life buildings. This first one, dubbed Academic Building 2 for the time being, will be used for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics education.

All four floors will have learning spaces, including specialized classrooms able to accommodate curriculum-specific equipment. Laboratories and engineering spaces are planned, along with maker spaces for art, engineering, computer science, and outdoor product programs. Other collaborative, informal spaces will serve both staff and students.

The project is intended to be a model for the rest of the proposed net-zero campus. In part, this flexibility comes from the mass-timber structural elements, which allow for long interior spans and the ability to easily reconfigure interior walls.

Structurally, glulam beams and columns are being used along with cross-laminated-timber floor panels. Only the slab-on-grade foundation and shear walls at each corridor’s end will feature concrete so the project’s carbon footprint can be minimized.

Click here to read the original DJC Oregon article.

The research Graham Montgomery and Michael Stoner were conducting in 2013 as students at Clemson University gave them experience with real-world applications for mass timber construction. Now Graham, mass timber technical director, and Michael, intern project engineer, can see the evolution of mass timber construction as it expands across the United States, including at Clemson University.

The Snow Family Outdoor Fitness and Wellness Center, part of Clemson University, is built with cross-laminated timber (CLT) and is among the first-ever projects involving CLT made from southern yellow pine.

Michael recalls his vision on mass timber and its applications for Clemson University. “In my time here, we’ve gone from pressing the first southern yellow pine pieces to having a completed building on campus. That’s huge progress.”

Graham recently had the opportunity to sign the inside of an elevator shaft within the fitness and wellness center as part of the topping-out ceremony; bringing his research, experience, and passions full circle to where it all began.

Check out the Newsstand at Clemson University to read the full article.


Photo by Craig Mahaffey

New Land Enterprises is adding height to its timber-framed Ascent tower in Milwaukee to create more parking and apartments, and expects it could be the second-tallest wood-framed building in the world.
The Milwaukee developer is using mass timber columns and beams instead of concrete or steel for the 23-story structure of the East Kilbourn Avenue building. It is a new approach to the Milwaukee market, but mass timber is gaining momentum globally as a more sustainable building material.
It could break ground in late spring 2020, for completion in early 2022, said Tim Gokhman, director of Milwaukee-based New Land.
Expected to be up to 250 feet tall, the Ascent could become North America’s tallest mass timber building, and is drawing international attention. Earlier this month, New Land hosted a delegation of a dozen Taiwanese government, academic and architectural representatives, Gokhman said. The group was visiting the Forest Products Laboratory in Madison and asked to hear more about the Ascent, Gokhman said, so they made a detour to Milwaukee.
“The building will have the effect of people traveling internationally just to see it, which is exciting,” Gokhman said.
Under current designs, the building could rank second on Earth to the mixed-use Mjøstårnet in Norway, a mass timber building that is about 30 feet taller than Ascent would be. A recent design change adds a few floors to its original 238-foot height, edging it past the HAUT tower under construction in Amsterdam.
The change to Ascent adds one floor of parking and a floor of apartments, Gokhman said.
“It’s not a driver, setting a record is really, really the last thing on the list of priorities,” Gokhman said. “This is about finding the right ratios, aesthetics and economics.”
New Land changed the building’s unit count from 201 to 231. The new mix has fewer two-bedroom apartments and more one-bedroom units, which is a response to market.
Milwaukee’s Plan Commission on Sept. 9 will review the proposed design changes.
Gokhman said New Land has started raising equity commitments from investors to finance the project.
New Land also is rounding out its contractor team. Joining general contractor Catalyst Construction, Milwaukee, is Swinerton, a national builder with a Portland division specializing in mass timber, Gokhman said. Swinerton is helping to vet potential timber beam and column suppliers from Canada and Europe, he said.
Korb & Associates Architects, Milwaukee, is the architect.

To read the full article, click here.

As steel, concrete and glass came to dominate cities’ dense cores, wooden construction was largely relegated to single-family houses in the suburbs. But a push for sustainable and aesthetically pleasing construction materials — and some well-timed updates to building codes — could bring wooden construction back downtown.

Buildings constructed with wood were long constrained to a few floors, but in December, the International Code Council voted to ease restrictions on height, allowing construction up to 18 stories with mass timber, an engineered material made of wooden planks bonded and pressed together into immensely strong and lightweight beams. The code updates will go into effect across the nation in 2021. In Oregon and Washington, state governments have already passed their own sets of codes, and construction of large mass timber buildings has been underway. “When you step inside a wood building, it just feels good — it’s a very human product,” said Christopher Evans, an operations manager and head of the mass timber group at Swinerton, one of the nation’s largest contractors. “But there’s a whole host of other reasons the material is making a comeback, from cost and timeline savings to sustainability.” Underlying the boom in mass timber construction is a host of technological advances. While wood framing has been the preferred material in single-family homes for centuries, new materials like cross-laminated timber, or CLT, and glulam, short for glued laminated timber, have recently come to market. In 2018, Swinerton completed the headquarters for First Tech Federal Credit Union in Hillsboro, Oregon; at 156K SF, the building is the largest CLT installation in the nation. Since that project, numerous clients have approached Swinerton asking about mass timber. Evans said the Swinerton team took it upon themselves to become the nation’s experts in wooden construction.
“We decided to do as much research into the feasibility of mass timber as we could,” Evans said. “The company concluded that mass timber is definitely more than a niche technique, that this could be a serious competitor in construction. We’ve been building out the mass timber team since the Hillsboro project. We now have a dedicated group focused on mass timber in the commercial construction market.” Evans noted that a number of catalysts have coincided to bring mass timber into the forefront of the national construction conversation.  First is a push toward sustainable building materials. Though it may seem like cutting down trees would not be the most environmentally friendly way to erect a building, wood is a renewable resource, and mass timber construction has far lower carbon emissions than concrete and steel construction. CLT and glulam construction have become especially attractive for universities and municipalities that want to demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Next, mass timber construction can significantly reduce the timeline of a project, and consequently, its budget.  “When you use timber, you don’t have nearly as much concrete to set on-site, so most of the work can be prefabricated,” Evans said. “Also, because the building is so much lighter, you’re able to pour smaller foundations. On a decently large project, you can reduce the project schedule by 20% to 25%.” Part of that time is also saved because electrical, plumbing and mechanical work does not have to wait for concrete reshoring, and can happen immediately after the timber goes into place.

Finally, the search for unique office space has pushed tenants, and thereby developers, toward mass timber construction for its aesthetic appeal. The interior of a timber building feels bright and open, as opposed to concrete buildings that can feel cramped or claustrophobic, Evans said. The first wave of progressively minded developers began exploring mass timber as a means to attract higher rents from tenants willing to spring for eco-friendly, bright office space, Evans said. Now, a second wave of developers is getting on the bandwagon because they see their competition filling up their buildings and want to join in. “Timber construction makes sense for where we are in the world, in terms of lowering emissions and making office spaces more productive,” Evans said.  Most of the calls that the Swinerton Mass Timber team fields are from developers who are wondering if timber construction could make sense for their next project. But the cost viability of timber projects is not a simple question. “In some markets, concrete and labor are cheap, and transit costs for timber are high, so a mass timber project just may not make sense,” Evans said. “But in other markets where the costs for steel, concrete and labor are all high, mass timber can be cost-advantageous.”

To read the full story, click here.

A downtown Milwaukee high-rise has found support from an unlikely source: the United States Department of Agriculture.

The department’s Forestry Service division announced this week that it had awarded 41 grants totaling $8.9 million to businesses, universities, non-profits and tribal partners in 20 states to “create jobs, support fire-safe communities, restore healthy forest conditions, and spur environmentally sound innovation.”

The only Wisconsin winner was New Land Enterprises, which is proposing to build the Ascent apartment tower, the tallest mass timber building in North America, at 700 E. Kilbourn Ave.

In an interview, New Land director Tim Gokhman called the award a big honor. The funds will be used to support engineering work on the proposed 21-story, 201-unit apartment building. New Land is partnering with Korb + Associates Architects on the building’s design and New York-based Thornton Tomasetti on the building’s structural engineering.

The firm has engaged Catalyst Construction on pre-construction planning. Gokhman told Urban Milwaukee the firm is also working with the Portland office of general contractor Swinerton. The Pacific Northwest, led by Vancouver and Portland, is home to a number of mass timber buildings.

“There is a steep learning curve with the material,” said Gokhman. Mass timber is an engineered product made by combining layers of lumber into a stronger material. The material is capable of building much taller buildings than conventional wood construction methods because it only chars (rather than burning through) in a fire and offers enhanced strength.

“It is unquestionably a technology that will be used more than it is today,” said Gokhman. His firm is also proposing a seven-story mass timber office building on the Milwaukee River. The timber structures can provide both aesthetic and environmental benefits, including exposed wood interiors, shortened construction times and less impact on the environment.

Should it proceed on schedule, construction would take 17 months according to Gokhman. He said the firm will begin the financing process shortly. The building could open as early as 2021.

Gokhman declined to identify the size of the grant. The average size of the 41 grants would be about $217,000.

“Public–private partnerships supported by investments in wood innovations are key to managing wildfire risk and supporting health forests,” said Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen in a statement. “By advancing new solutions, we are making our forests and rural communities healthier and more resilient.”

The Forest Service received 140 grant applications.

To read the full article, click here.

Construction on the new education facility at the Snow Family Outdoor Fitness and Wellness Center reached a milestone May 8 in a gathering to celebrate the near-completion of timber installation on an innovative project covering 16,500 square feet.

In lieu of a traditional “topping off” ceremony, general contractor Sherman Construction welcomed key stakeholders from Clemson University, architect Cooper Carry and various project partners for a luncheon at the construction site adjacent to Lake Hartwell.

“This is a milestone, but we have a long way to go,” said Andy Sherman, president of the construction company bearing his family name. “You’ll begin seeing all the parts and pieces really coming together on this property over the next few months.”

Targeted to open later this fall, the new Outdoor Education Center will serve as home to Clemson’s Outdoor Recreation and Education (CORE) program. The facility will consist of two multi-use classroom spaces, a resource center for trip planning, equipment rentals, a boathouse, lakefront patio and second-level deck that overlooks Hartwell.

It joins the recently completed Champions Field — a 140,000 square foot synthetic turf space for Campus Recreation’s intramural sports program — on the property. The field has already seen more than 800 students participating on it this spring.

“This is a crown jewel on our university campus,” said Associate Vice President for Student Affairs George Smith. “As we looked at developing the site, we started with a vision of creating a national model for recreation and leisure space. We had the commitment to do it. We walked the site with donors who shared that commitment. It’s been reflected in how our students are starting to use the fields, and will soon utilize this outdoor recreation center. Thank you to everyone for helping us design and build this incredible facility.”

A key collaborator in the project has been the Wood Utilization and Design Institute. Its director, Pat Layton, was emotional as she introduced Clemson graduate Graham Montgomery, whose creative inquiry was responsible for helping develop the idea of using southern yellow pine, cross-laminated timber (CLT) ultimately used in the building’s design.

As attendees arrived, they were asked to sign the CLT within the facility’s elevator shaft, a tradition typically reserved for the final beam erected in a construction project. Layton chose to add a note next to her signature reading “Dreams Come True.”

“I remember seeing the first sketches from Cooper Carry and how amazing it was,” she said. “I consider this Clemson’s finest front porch. I know Thomas Green Clemson would love to sit here and look back at his legacy and know that we’re still continuing as a university to develop and grow our economy and use our natural resources for the benefits of our state and nation. That was his vision, and that’s what he gave to us. This is the first building manufactured from southern yellow pine CLT east of the Mississippi River. It will be a place visited by millions in the years to come. It really is a dream come true to see this magnificent building come to fruition.”

To read the full article, click here.

The First Tech Federal Credit Union office—at five stories and 156,000 square feet—became America’s largest CLT-framed building by area when it opened this past summer.

When First Tech Federal Credit Union commissioned a new corporate office in the Portland, Oregon, suburb of Hillsboro, the idea was to be near tech-industry clients in what’s known as the Silicon Forest. But then the company purchased a 17-acre plot bordering a small wetland preserve there, and a different kind of motivation emerged: to build an office that could feel as inviting as green space.

To Portland’s Hacker Architects, that meant building with wood, and specifically cross-laminated timber (CLT), a technology long prevalent in Europe that has slowly gained traction in the United States. “We had the idea early on because wood best aligned with [First Tech’s] values,” explains Hacker’s Scott Barton-Smith, citing the material’s inherent renewability. (Wood also sequesters climate-change-causing carbon.)

Made by gluing perpendicularly placed layers of wood, cross-laminated timber has begun to proliferate in the Pacific Northwest thanks to its sustainable credentials. Besides these advantages, CLT buildings are more fire-resistant than traditional stick framing, which in turn has allowed code approval for taller buildings. The nation’s tallest CLT building, the Carbon12 condominium, was completed in Portland last year, and First Tech Credit Union’s office—at five stories and 156,000 square feet—became America’s largest CLT-framed building by area when it opened this past summer.

First Tech’s office construction is estimated to have taken four months less to complete than a comparable steel-framed structure, essentially because CLT makes conventional construction closer to prefab. “All the columns and beams come out of the factory with the connectors on them and ready to be joined together in the field,” Barton-Smith explains. Workers slip the beams into these connectors, and they snap into place—a process that requires as few as seven workers plus a crane operator (the crew would be three to four times larger on a steel or concrete building). “We saw about a four percent savings, relative to constructing with steel,” says Monique Little, First Tech’s chief people officer, “not really because of the cost of materials but due to the time savings we were able to gain.”

The boomerang-shaped building is designed to literally embrace its surroundings, wrapping the wetlands’ U-shaped footprint. Hacker Architects gave the floor plate a narrow depth to ensure optimized light penetration. Especially bright and inviting is what’s known as The Commons, a large, terraced gathering space that spills from the second story to the ground floor and looks out on the wetlands through a double-height wall of glass. In summer, some of these panels can slide away to join an outdoor plaza into a combined indoor-outdoor space. On each floor, the architects cut balconies into the facade, providing every department with easy access to fresh air.

To create a flexible environment, the design team struck a balance between open and traditional office concepts. Though some departments include closed-door executive offices, they can be easily converted to huddle rooms. “One size does not fit all,” says Jennifer Fowler, Hacker’s head of interior design. “You basically just have to figure out how to distribute all types of spaces for all types of work styles.” But the best option may still be to meet while strolling the pathway circling a large pond that’s part of the wetlands just outside the office door.

The interiors derive color from the natural wood ceiling beams (uncluttered by mechanical equipment thanks to a raised-access floor) as well as from the leafy view outside, seen through the glass walls that delineate meeting rooms and an interior stairway. There are also patterns throughout the space inspired by nature. When the sun disappears, for example, artificial lights mimic natural illumination. Ceiling-mounted LEDs are filtered through perforated screens to create the effect of a tree canopy’s dappled light. Luckily, even gray days fill this glassy, wood-festooned office with sunshine.

“The aesthetics are great,” First Tech’s Little says. “But it’s more than that. It’s a space where people can come together and collaborate.”

To read the full article, click here.

While 20th century architecture was arguably defined by the innovative use of concrete, steel and other modern materials, it looks more and more like 21st century design will be defined by one of the most traditional building materials of all: timber.

To be clear, it’s not log cabins we’re talking about here. Thanks to major technological advances in the past few decades in the realm of engineered wood products, 3D computer modeling and digital fabrication, today’s timber products are sturdy, reliable and, perhaps most importantly, more sustainable than comparable materials.

The key innovation in the space has been the development of mass timber, a category of building materials that includes modern engineered wood products such as cross-laminated timber, or CLT panels, and glue laminated timber, also known as glulam columns and beams. These materials are increasingly popular in design- and sustainability-focused projects, notes Erica Spiritos, mass timber preconstruction manager for Swinerton, the 131-year-old commercial design and construction firm.

“With each announcement of a new or completed project in a few pioneer cities, awareness and excitement about mass timber is growing across the country,” Spiritos says. “We have completed three projects, have four in construction, and the number keeps growing. We are currently tracking 8 million square feet of mass timber products being built in the U.S. in the next couple of years. That’s significant.”

The key to mass timber’s sustainability, she explains, is the use of small-diameter, fast-growing trees.

“WoodWorks calculated that it would take Oregon timberlands 46 minutes to grow the wood for a 156,000 square-foot office building. Demand for lumber, coupled with new forest management practices that support a broader array of ecosystem services, is incentivizing sustainability and having positive impacts on our forest land.”

The benefits of mass timber don’t stop there, though. The flexibility of the material allows for faster builds and up to 75 percent fewer deliveries to a job site, Spiritos says.

And then there’s the labor advantage, says Corey Martin, architect and principal at Hacker Architects. “In markets that have really big labor shortages, you can take advantage of the precision manufactured product to be more efficient with your field installation crews. Parts are brought to the site, ready to be assembled. So you can have a team in the 10- to 15-person range assembling a typical office building structure, as opposed to the 50-plus-person team that kind of site usually needs.”

“It’s the ability to create enduring value” that excites Noel Johnson, principal at developer Cairn Pacific, about mass timber. “I think you can be creative,” he says. “That’s why I do it.”

“I think it’s telling that a lot of architects are designing and moving into their own timber buildings,” says Eric McDonnell, principal at Holmes Structures. “Quite simply, they’re the best places to be.”

Panel Discussion: The Case for Mass Timber

At a Feb. 5 forum hosted by the Portland Business Journal, panelists Corey Martin, principal at Hacker Architects, Eric McDonnell, principal at Holmes Structures, Erica Spiritos, mass timber preconstruction manager at Swinerton, and Noel Johnson, principal at Cairn Pacific, discussed how use of mass timber can make projects more cost-effective, more sustainable and more attractive. The discussion was moderated by Timm Locke, director of forest products for the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Comments have been edited for length and for clarity.

What does the term “mass timber” mean to you?

 Martin: I think we’re in the process of figuring that out. There have been a lot of different ways of building with wood over the years, and lately we’ve been focusing on certain products like CLT (cross-laminated timber), but a lot of new technologies and ideas are coming out of the lumber industry. You could say anything that’s built out of wood of a certain size that has a certain thickness to it qualifies as mass timber.

Johnson: Mass timber can certainly be defined by its physical properties, but it’s also something more intangible. On a societal level, it can be a reaction to carbon pollution, or it can be an interest in getting connected to where materials are coming from or how products are made, or who it’s being made by, or the craftsmanship of it. It’s a neat, super broad response to certain issues with current building materials.

Spiritos: We’ve been building with timber of significant dimensions for hundreds of years. The difference is that when we build with mass timber products today, we’re building with engineered wood products that are typically glued-together lumber coming from small diameter trees, whereas a hundred years ago we were using large diameter, primarily old-growth trees to make those heavy timber components.

What are some common mass timber materials, and how do they differ from other timber products?

McDonnell: First of all, I think it’s great that we’re using the term “mass timber,” because when cross-laminated timber first came out, a lot of people were kind of fixated on CLT. But mass timber is actually a broader set of materials. Glulam, or glued laminated timber, for instance, is typically made up of two-by materials adhered together, with all the fibers running in strong directions, basically creating beams or columns. With cross-laminated timber, on the other hand, the orientation of the fibers tends to be perpendicular. You’re gluing the materials together into big panels, like 10-by-40-foot panels. There are some newer products as well, like mass plywood products. And then there are other products that have been around for a long time, such as LVL (laminated veneer lumber)-type materials and parallam (parallel strand lumber) materials. All of these products that are made up of smaller pieces of wood formed together into bigger pieces are considered mass timber, as well as traditional big, heavy timbers.

Why is mass timber getting so much attention these days? 

Spiritos: Mass timber responds to some of civilization’s most pressing issues today. We’re talking about a way of building that addresses issues around climate change, that addresses issues around densification of cities due to population growth and rapid urbanization, that addresses need for housing in cities that already exist. I recently learned from the Director of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat that we need to build a new Chicago every every month somewhere on the planet in order to accommodate global population growth. I think to myself, “How are we going to do that? Are we going to do that in a way that is fast and safe and uses renewable resources, and boosts local economies?” Mass timber enables us to do that.

Johnson: I think that with my parents’ generation, there was a lot of excitement about post-tensioned concrete and what it could do. And then in my grandparents’ generation, steel was the big breakthrough. So there are periods of time when the built environment industry is thinking creatively and there’s a lot of energy. I think the mass timber boom is analogous. But the best part is that these large mass timber buildings that were built in my great-grandfather’s generation and before — they’re all still there. They’re not rusting. They don’t have cables inside that we have no idea how they’re going to fare in 300 years because it’s a technique we’ve never done before. Timber buildings are proven. If you go to other nations that are older than ours, we see these buildings, and they’re just so alive and thriving, and they’re beautiful structures.

Spiritos: I grew up in New York City – the concrete jungle. I moved to Portland in large part to be closer to nature, and to me, mass timber is a way to bring nature into cities. I am a city-dweller, to be sure, and that’s where I feel comfortable. And I think there’s no denying that the trajectory of our civilization is toward cities. But with that kind of urban lifestyle and our increasing reliance on technology, mass timber can serve as a vital reminder of humanity’s interdependence with the natural world.

Why do you prefer to work with mass timber materials?

Martin: As a designer, wood is just an amazingly beautiful material that has this great quality of connecting people to the landscape. And of course one of my goals in design and architecture is to connect people to nature — no matter what kind of building I’m designing. Even if I’m designing a building for downtown New York, I want to figure out a way to connect people to nature, and using wood (and mass timber) is one of the ways we’ve always been able to do that. I’m also a sculptor, though, and I’ve spent years sculpting mass timber. There’s just something really tactile and meaningful about digging into a piece of wood. So as I’m thinking about designing buildings, I’m thinking about them as architectural spaces connecting people to nature, but also as sculpture and art. And the great thing, for me, about wood is that it combines those two aspirations into one practice.

What are the advantages of using mass timber for a project?

Johnson: For one thing, it can be quite profitable. From a developer’s standpoint, there are two schools of thought about how to make money in real estate. One is to try and squeeze costs as much as possible on every level. The other is to try and build something that’s a little bit better, something a little bit unique and new. Mass timber falls into that latter category. I think when you create value through that mechanism, when it’s a true expression of creation, you can actually have a profitable project that everyone enjoyed working on, as opposed to a project that was technically profitable, but that no one really enjoyed working on or that the community doesn’t really profit from.

Spiritos: From a construction standpoint, the technology around mass timber enables us to take a natural material that’s inherently imprecise due to the hygroscopic nature of wood, and transform this material into a precision-manufactured component that allows us to build 12 or 18 story structures with ease and reliability.

Martin: Mass timber can definitely be faster than other methods. Of course, it depends on the team and the project, but since it’s a precision manufactured product and there’s a lot of technology that we can take advantage of, we’ve found that mass timber can be a lot faster. We can CNC the pieces in the shop and bring them to the site and assemble them much more quickly, because a lot of the work is done off site. That’s definitely an advantage.

Spiritos: We’re also finding that a lot of the cost savings associated with the mass timber comes from thoughtful consideration of how the mass timber structure integrates with other building systems, whether that’s the foundation or the facade or the fire sprinkler system, and then integrating the prefabrication process into those other building systems. For example, on the project for First Tech Federal Credit Union, we were able to achieve a 4 percent savings over a more traditional steel structure and delivered the structure four months ahead of schedule, because we simplified the interface with the building envelope, and because we had a lighter foundation, among other savings.

In what ways is mass timber more sustainable than concrete and other modern building materials?

Spiritos: Wood, by chemical composition, is about 50 percent carbon by dry weight. When you cut down a tree, that carbon remains in the lumber or the glulam beam or the CLT panel for as long as that material exists in that building. So what we’re doing when we use timber is shifting the carbon sequestration from the forest into the city and then sequestering new carbon in the forest by growing new trees.

Martin: Whereas other materials actually release carbon in their production.

Spiritos: Right. Exactly. And it’s kind of counterintuitive, but the healthiest forests are actually the ones that are generating revenue. In the United States, most of the forestland that’s logged for lumber and other forest products are privately owned. And to maintain any piece of land, no matter the function it’s serving, you need some kind of revenue generation. So it actually makes sense that cutting down more trees is the way to incentivize and ensure sustainability in our forests and improve wellbeing across those lands. So instead of the policy being “cut fewer trees, use less wood,” I think the more sustainable policy to promote forest health is “grow more trees, use more wood.”

McDonnell: I think the most compelling thing is that wood is the only structural material that we have that is grown with just sun and water. There’s something pretty special about that.

How does mass timber affect the way you design and build?

Martin: There’s a labor component that I think shouldn’t be understated. Precision manufacturing and machining of the parts can reduce the amount of people it takes on site, which is important in markets that have a really big labor shortage, like San Francisco. For a building that’s 150,000 square feet, there’s a team of people in the 10 to 15 range, versus the 50 or so that it usually takes to erect a structural system for the building. And they’re doing it very quickly and quietly in a smaller amount of space because they don’t have to have all of the gear and all of the equipment on site that they would normally need. But that’s just one aspect that makes mass timber more appealing. As Erica said, to build one Chicago a month is going to take a lot of people. And the number of people required to build buildings isn’t going to go down. We’ll need more and more labor. So how can we make it more efficient?

McDonnell: I think that’s probably one reason you’re seeing even more of these types of buildings being built in Europe, where the labor market is even more restrained than ours. As our labor market moves more in that direction, I think we’ll see increasing interest in mass timber.

How can mass timber buildings improve conditions for occupants?

Martin: There have been a lot of studies done on the importance of what we call now biophilia, which is basically the impact of nature and natural materials on human beings. And tests have shown that people are more productive and take fewer sick days at work when they’re in workspaces that are better designed and more humane. So with mass timber designs people can be happier at work, but it also affects the bottom line, because companies that are hiring can get better returns on their labor force by designing and providing spaces that are more humane, and ultimately more productive, for their workers.

McDonnell: I also think it’s very telling that a number of the architects we work with are designing and moving into their own timber buildings. It’s great to go to those offices and spend time in those conference rooms. They’re the best places to be.

Meet the panelists

Corey Martin, Principal,Hacker Architecture

Corey Martin joined Hacker Architecture in 2011, and his design leadership has guided some of the firm’s most notable, award-winning projects incorporating wood, mass timber, and CLT. As an Oregon native, Corey is strongly influenced by the unique relationship between the natural and built environment of the Pacific Northwest, and he has received wide acclaim for creating modern buildings that display a particular sensitivity to the natural environment, daylight, spatial dynamism, and craft. His work has received numerous national and international awards for excellence in wood design and construction, including Lakeside at Black Butte Ranch, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon, and First Tech FCU.

Eric McDonnell, Principal, Holmes Structures, Portland

Eric McDonnell is an industry leader in the development and implementation of mass timber structural systems. A native of the Pacific Northwest with a natural affinity for timber structures and a strong background in wood engineering, Eric has traveled the world to absorb the latest in mass timber technology. Shaped by work experiences in San Francisco and post-earthquake Christchurch, he also brings a knowledge of resilient seismic design to his projects. He has coupled these strengths to present cutting-edge solutions with enhanced seismic performance to numerous mass timber projects. Eric is also committed to advancing the profession through collaborative research efforts, including participation in code committees, development of mass timber design guides and speaking engagements.

Erica Spiritos, Mass Timber Preconstruction Manager, Swinerton

Erica Spiritos has long been interested in the design of urban environments in ways that honor the natural resources on which our lives depend. Following her Civil & Environmental Engineering studies at Carnegie Mellon University, Erica discovered mass timber structures and their potential benefits to the construction industry. She joined a major mass timber supplier and became a cornerstone of the mass timber movement in the Pacific Northwest, educating the AEC industry and facilitating solutions to deliver eight projects, including both the tallest and the largest CLT projects in the USA. With Swinerton, Erica provides project-specific expertise to support appropriate and optimal mass timber design, estimating, BIM integration and procurement strategy.

Noel JohnsonPrincipal, Cairn Pacific

Noel Johnson has worked in commercial real estate since 2001, sourcing, capitalizing and building innovative, institutional-scale housing, office and retail developments. Cairn Pacific is a full-service urban development company with experience ranging from neighborhood infill projects to large downtown high-rises. Johnson was one of the early leaders in the mass timber movement, developing buildings such as Clay Creative, The Hudson and 120 Clay in the Portland area to attract millennial workforces, while providing product differentiation to investors. He has also focused on redevelopment of urban brownfields, using unique public-private indemnity structures to enable institutional-quality investments.

Moderator: Timm Locke, Director of Forest Products, Oregon Forest Resources Institute

As OFRI’s Director of Forest Products, Timm works to increase awareness among designers, builders, and policymakers in Oregon of the many advantages of CLT and other mass timber products. He is active in Oregon’s Wood Products Working Group and an organizer for the International Mass Timber Conference, which will be held in Portland in March. His efforts have helped establish Oregon as the epicenter of the mass timber movement in the U.S.

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