Tag Archives: mass timber

Mass Timber’s Moment: What’s Next for CLT?

The 80 M Street SE mass timber addition will be the first of its kind in Washington, DC.

Just last month, over 1,300 tons of mass timber arrived on site at 80 M Street in Washington, DC’s Capitol Riverfront district. Having completed its journey from the forests of the Pacific Northwest and Eastern Canada, the timber was hoisted atop the commercial office building and, over the course of a few short months, will result in 105,000-SF of additional leasable tenant and amenity space. The 80 M Street renovation, the District of Columbia’s first mass timber and glass vertical expansion project, is a triumph for a number of reasons, the most crucial of which is its signaling to the real estate industry the possibility for further development of its kind.

The culmination of extensive research and a lengthy entitlement process including the approval for code modifications and community review, 80 M Street came to fruition under the guidance of a client with vision and the collaboration of an invested project team who saw the sustainable material’s long-term potential. And the potential is endless, insists the senior designer behind 80 M Street, Tom Corrado, LEED AP, who, in partnership with John Lang, AIA, a senior associate at Hickok Cole, has been exploring the next opportunity for mass timber development in DC.

“We’re at a point where every conversation we have with a client begins with mass timber,” Tom stated. Having witnessed the rise in remote workers this past year, and well aware of the housing crisis in the District, Tom and John venture that timber could reconcile these issues.

Due to its pre-fabricated nature, timber construction takes approximately 25% less time to build, resulting in faster lead times and improved quality control.

“Residential construction is primed for timber, especially when you need housing fast,” comments John. Having specialized in residential design throughout his tenure at Hickok Cole, John is an advocate for affordable and attainable housing and sees it as timber’s next step. “The module for housing is smaller than office and timber construction excels on shorter structural systems. Better still, mass timber comes in pre-fabricated panels that speed up construction and reduce the amount of labor on-site. Consequently, that usually means improved quality control.” With labor costs skyrocketing and skilled labor dwindling, this could ultimately help drive down or at least steady rent prices, he pointed out.

“Not to mention the biophilic element and connection to nature these residences would provide,” adds Tom. “Humans are not meant to live in these 600-SF boxes. We need access to greenery and sunlight. And just being surrounded by wood accomplishes that – it’s definitely better for you than concrete and dry wall.”

With the increased attention to health and wellness due to the pandemic, John explains, it’s obvious that the housing industry will require a shift as well. “That includes everything from better HVAC systems and ventilation to availability of outdoor amenities and remote work accommodations. But, we’ve also seen how drastically our presence impacts the planet. With nowhere to go this past year, the roads were clearer and so were the skies – we can’t ignore that.”

Studies show exposed wood has resulted in improved mood and productivity levels for building occupants.

It’s true that our definition of a healthy lifestyle has expanded to include a focus on climate change and reducing our carbon footprint – and that of buildings. It’s especially true when you consider that the construction and building industry accounts for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions annually. Not only is wood the only building material that is 100% renewable but as they grow, forests actually sequester nearly 13% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions per year. As a result, buildings made from wood store that carbon throughout their lifespans.  

The case for timber is clear and has been made countless times. So, if it seems so obvious, then why has it been so challenging convincing developers and building owners to pursue mass timber construction? As is usual with the early stages of any new technology, the biggest hurdles are cost and the associated risks (including a decent learning curve in this case) with being the first. But, as Tom points out, we’re not the first. We’re not even close – at least not globally. In fact, most of Europe and Canada, and even parts of Asia, including China despite its robust steel economy, have been investing in the material for some time now. In West Coast states like California and Washington, where timber is easily accessible and often cheaper, experimenting with timber in a variety of project types including schools, hotels, and even entertainment venues began almost a decade ago.

“We’re looking into medical office buildings as well,” Tom added. “There’s been a shift in the medical community away from single practitioners occupying a portion of a larger building towards several providing care under one roof. We predict folks will be going to a single location for all their health and wellness needs in the future so why not create a better environment and improve the user experience holistically?” Mass timber can improve air quality and acoustics, and has been proven to elicit a positive human response from occupants.

The current premium on mass timber is driven by a lack of readily available resources on the East Coast and subsequent low demand. One solution is for jurisdictions to alleviate costs by offering incentives like tax credits.

Now that timber has made it to the nation’s capital, the question remains: how can we propel the timber movement forward? Cutting down costs is one way – but that comes with increased supply. One of the biggest factors contributing to the premium on wood is limited resources on the East Coast. “We need to make the case for forests on this side of the country. Areas in the northeast like Maine and Vermont are well suited for it,” says John.

The next step is understanding the International Building Code and navigating jurisdictional zoning laws and safety regulations. “Form your project team early on, involve local representatives and jurisdictions right away, and educate the community,” Tom suggests. “Every project is different, but it only takes a few early adopters to remove uncertainty from the equation.” From there, he says, the knowledge is public, and you now have a pool of experts who can take the lead on the entitlement process or negotiating code modifications, as needed.

“It’s true that sustainability alone isn’t enough of a motive for development to occur, especially if the dollars don’t lean in your favor,” says John. “And developers shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of these costs. That’s why it’s crucial to have an open dialogue with your jurisdiction.”  Putting your cards on the table and seeing how your goals align can prompt the introduction of sustainable incentive programs, tax credits, grants, and other forms of government support.

“The results are in on timber. We should no longer be concerned with early adoption,” Tom contended. “In fact, our biggest risk is being last to get on board.”

80 M is scheduled to deliver in the fall of 2021, just a few months after construction launched in March.

Want to explore mass timber for your next project? Contact Laura Roth, Director of Business Development, to schedule a conversation with the team.

WASHINGTON DC – In March 2019 Hickok Cole officially joined a research consortium headquartered at the University of Oregon called the Institute for Health in the Built Environment. Members come from various backgrounds including architecture, engineering, academia, consumer goods and technology.

The Institute’s mission is to: develop new design concepts for the realization of healthy and sustainable inhabited space. We do this by forming unconventional collaborations that conduct research where architecture, biology, medicine, chemistry and engineering intersect and translate it into design practice through a consortium of invested industry partners with applied impact. This aligns perfectly with Hickok Cole’s own vision of doing work that matters.

Institute for Health in the Built Environment org diagram

The types of research this Institute undertakes is broad, it covers such varied topics as daylighting and sunlight’s effects on indoor microbiomes, circadian lighting and healthy aging, priobiotics and mechanical building systems and mass timber’s effect on human wellbeing, both physical and mental. For a full breakdown of the consortium’s work, as well as an overview on Hickok Cole’s research philosophy, please see a pdf of the 2018-2019 Build Health_Q3 Report.

The Institute’s yearly conference, Build Health, will be held in a few weeks in Portland, Oregon and we look forward to presenting the latest on both our mass timber projects and ongoing grant work for the DC’s Department of Energy and the Environment and the US Forest Service through the Wood Innovations grant program.

Previously, we wrote an ASID Transform grant to study the effect of plants versus free standing air filtration systems on carbon dioxide levels in a standard office building with the Institute. While this particular grant came very close to receiving funding, it did not move forward in 2018, we hope to revisit this experiment in future to increase the number of options for tenants inhabiting buildings with aging mechanical systems.

About Hickok Cole

Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities.

About the Institute for Health in the Built Environment

The Institute for Health in the Built Environment was founded by three research laboratories at the University of Oregon; Energy Studies in Buildings LaboratoryBiology and the Built Environment Center, and Baker Lighting Lab. Formed in the spirit of this collaborative strategy, the Institute for Health in the Built Environment seeks to broaden the network of researchers and practitioners such that issues concerning health, comfort, and sustainability in the human ecosystem are addressed in a way that benefits our work, our community, and our planet.

For more information about this partnership please contact Melanie De Cola.

WASHINGTON DC – Hickok Cole is proud to announce that it has been awarded a 2018 USDA Forest Service Wood Innovations grant to study the use of cross-laminated wood components in structures slated to be built for Kingman Island & Heritage Island Park in Washington, DC. The firm led the development of a masterplan for the islands as part of a 2017 Planning & Feasibility Study funded by the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy and the Environment. The masterplan calls for a series of outdoor classrooms and a ranger station that will act a gateway to the islands. The goal is to create a unique educational and recreational asset for children and residents of the District, while contributing to an engaged community and a healthy, restored Anacostia River. The revitalization of these islands is a key part of the District’s 2018 “Year of the Anacostia” campaign, and building the park elements out of a renewable resource aligns with the overall spirit of these rejuvenation efforts.

Hickok Cole’s 2017 master plan for Kingman and Heritage Islands

The Hickok Cole team’s winning proposal is one of 34 projects selected to explore the expansion and acceleration of wood products and wood energy markets across the country. “These Wood Innovation grants advance state-of-the-art solutions to reducing wildfire risk and making our forests healthier and more resilient,” said Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen. “The public-private partnerships leveraged with these grants also foster increased economic development in rural communities.”

The grant includes funding from the U.S. Forest Service along with matching funds from the Softwood Lumber Board and in-kind donations from the team of industry partners, including Oehme, van Sweden, Skanska, Arup, VIKA, Integral Group and Smartlam. The award will be used to fund schematic and design development efforts focused primarily on the proposed Kingman Island Ranger Station. The team seeks to design a modular ranger station prototype for the National Forest Service that features a storage unit, office, breezeway, classroom and restrooms all built from cross-laminated timber (CLT) and other wood products.

Kingman Island Ranger Station

Conceptual design for the Kingman Island Ranger Station

“We want this to be a prototype that the National Forest Service can reuse throughout the country, using the modular components to scale up and down based on the needs of the individual parks,” said Holly Lennihan, Director of Sustainable Design at Hickok Cole. “The use of CLT in our design makes an environmental statement mere blocks from the Capitol, and creates a learning environment where children and lawmakers alike can be exposed to the sustainable potential of a domestic wood industry.”

A kick-off charrette, including representatives from the Softwood Lumber Board, WoodWorks, and the U.S. Forest Service is scheduled for July 24th at Hickok Cole’s offices in Washington, DC.

About Hickok Cole

Hickok Cole is a forward-focused design practice connecting bold ideas, diverse expertise, and partners with vision to do work that matters. Informed by research and fueled by creative rigor, we look beyond today’s trends to help our clients embrace tomorrow’s opportunities.

CURBED PHILADELPHIA — If the Philly skyline brings to mind one thing, it’s glass—and lots of it. From the Comcast Center to the two Liberty Palaces, many of the city’s tallest buildings are sleek, all-glass structures. But a group of DC architects say it’s time to bring another, environmentally-friendly material to the city’s skyline: wood.

 

PHILLY VOICE — “When you think of a skyscraper, you’re usually dealing with steel or concrete,” said Sean McTaggart, project architect at Hickok Cole. “The problem with those two materials is that they cause a lot of carbon emissions.” McTaggart and his colleagues recently submitted their dazzling Timber Towers project to the Skyhive Skyscrapers Challenge, a conceptual design competition that encourages entrants to showcase their creativity within the realm of what can actually be achieved.

 

A Stroll through Timber City with Holly Lennihan

Over the past few months, there has been a steady stream of conversation and research around the office related to the subject of mass timber and its application in building design and construction. The stars (and wood!) aligned in mid-July when our own Director of Sustainable Design and DC CREW EDU committee member, Holly Lennihan, joined The National Building Museum’s Timber City Exhibit, Forestry experts and other industry representatives for a panel discussion on the topic as a part of CREW DC’s “Innovation” education series.

Following the program, we sat down with Holly to discuss this growing trend, its application, and the design implications of using mass timber.

Why was mass timber a timely fit for CREW DC’s “Innovation” series?
The idea for the program originally grew out of conversations I was having with people in our office. This trend represents an exciting new way to use wood in our industry, and not many firms have experience designing and building with mass timber therefore our list of potential panelists was limited. However, through CREW EDU committee members, we were able to connect with both Melissa Jenkins of the U.S. Forest Service and Nadine Block of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. Lauren Wingo, structural engineer at Arup, joined the team on the heels of a presentation Arup gave on mass timber to the Hickok Cole office. She was an integral part of their presentation, and we knew she would bring a lot of value to the program.

What innovations and advancements have been made to make building with wood in urban areas safer than the approach has been in the past?
During the panel, Melissa spoke specifically about the extensive safety testing. As I understand it, when a Cross Laminated Timber column or beam burns, a fascinating thing happens where the outside layer chars and actually insulates the inside. So, counter to what you would think, the burned exterior becomes the protection for the interior. According to Melissa, everyone who watched the fire test was stunned by how well the timber performed.

In addressing seismic issues, Cross Laminated Timber is a surprisingly effective structural system due to the process of laminating in two different directions. This technique results in ductile behavior, giving the structure flexibility and allowing for energy dissipation because the timbers can move against one another.

“Why not strengthen the wood production industry through investment in mass timber material? It supports domestic manufacturing while both helping the environment and contributing to beautiful interior design. I predict we will even see productivity gains in people who work in spaces where the wood structure is visible. To me, it resonates across the triple bottom line—a win-win-win for people, planet and profits.”

– Holly Lennihan

CREW Edu Mass Timber Event

CREW Edu Mass Timber Event at The National Building Museum

How is Cross Laminated Timber addressing established North American building codes that bar against the use of mass timber in high-rise development?
The 2015 International Building Code (IBC) allows for Cross Laminated Timber, but it has not yet been adopted by DC or Virginia. There are, however, alternate paths for incorporating mass timber in the meantime while complying with current codes. Lauren shared an example where Arup was able to use mass timber in their approach to Washington Latin Public Charter School’s new gymnasium; they walked the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) through a process to show them how Cross Laminated Timber can meet fire and structural requirements for the code. This was, of course, aided by the fact that the material is included in future versions of the IBC.

Once there is a developer on board that understands that building with this material has valid economic rationale, while also giving them an edge in terms of their product offering, we anticipate others will follow. Hines has already successfully delivered a mass timber high-rise office tower in Minneapolis. At Hickok Cole, we’re excited about the opportunity to work alongside developers who want to be at the forefront of this kind of innovative work.

Are there sustainable or aesthetic benefits to building with wood over other materials?
From an aesthetic and wellness angle, there are benefits to taking a biophilic, human-centered approach to design. We are finding more and more connections between natural building materials and productivity, health and wellness. Plus, exposing the natural wood makes for a beautiful interior.

Nadine did a really good job of explaining the role of culling to maintain healthy forests. This necessary clearing results in a supply of timber that can be used throughout the built environment. Others are using wood from forests that have been decimated by the Mountain Pine Beetle, an epidemic brought on by climate change that is currently ravaging the West. Both approaches are helping to keep forests healthy and repurpose excess wood into a useful building material.

Are there financial benefits for developers that choose to go the mass timber route?
I think people that have used it successfully point to its ease of use and the resulting increased speed of construction. Anytime you can cut down on construction time, you are going to have a net gain in terms of expenditure and budget. Additionally, the fact that it’s a lighter weight material means a decrease in foundation costs.

As a designer and architect specializing in sustainability, why do you think mass timber is something DC—and the rest of the country—should be focused on right now?
For one thing, DC’s incredibly committed to sustainability. I think design professionals like myself feel that if there’s one place mass timber could enter the market, it’s here. We are looking for clients – whether it’s a developer or a mission-driven non-profit – to see the benefits of Cross Laminated Timber and be an agent of change.

However, we do have to be realistic. I think there are design constraints which could make it difficult to convince a central business district developer who wants to do a concrete and steel building to go the mass timber route. On the other hand, people may find new ways to use it. I’m both pragmatic and idealistic. I believe the use of mass timber will ultimately result in a better building, but it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach.

Special thanks to the DC CREW EDU committee members and to the following expert panelists who contributed to the “Timberrrr! A New Look at Wood Construction” program:

  • Melissa Jenkins, Natural Resources Specialist, Cooperative Forestry (Wood Innovation), U.S. Forest Service
  • Nadine Block, Chief Operating Officer and Senior VP Public Affairs, Sustainable Forestry Initiative
  • Lauren Wingo, Structural Engineer, Arup

CREW Edu Mass Timber Event

CREW Edu Mass Timber Event at the National Building Museum

Want to learn more about mass timber’s use in building design and construction? Check out these additional resources: