Posts tagged with "Mass Timber":

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Kengo Kuma is crafting a timber temple to sports for the 2020 Olympics

This article originally appeared as part of our January 2019 print issue in the timber feature.

Kengo Kuma’s $1.4 billion National Stadium is over 25 percent complete and should open in November 2019 for six months of testing before the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics kickoff. The three-tiered stadium is expected to seat 68,000 during the games and 80,000 when it’s converted into a home field for the Japan National Football Team.

Utilizing a half-covered roof and an abundance of overflowing greenery, Kuma’s flat structure is a far cry from the yonic stadium designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, which was originally chosen in 2015. The distinct layers and open-air columns of Kuma’s stadium are references to the 1,300-year-old Gojunoto pagoda at Horyuji Temple in Ikaruga, the oldest timber building in the world.

Kuma has pledged that the stadium will source over 70,000 cubic feet of larch and cedar wood from nearly all of Japan's 47 prefectures, with an emphasis on areas hit hardest by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The steel roof over the ovoid stadium will be supported by a lattice of exposed timber beams and joists. Kuma has rimmed the track and field building with open-air loggias and clad the edges in a screen of vertical wood, creating a breezy, naturalistic setting that’s perfect for the summer games. It’s not all smooth sailing for the Tokyo 2020 commission, however, as the U.S.-based Rainforest Action Network has accused the group of sourcing endangered tropical timber from Malaysia and Indonesia to build the 2020 stadiums. A Tokyo 2020 spokesman has denied the claims, but the commission is working to further tighten up its sourcing standards regardless.

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The U.S. mass timber industry is maturing while it branches out

This article originally appeared as part of our January 2019 print issue in the timber feature.

President Donald Trump’s tariffs, enacted in November 2017, have not yet made a significant impact on the U.S. mass timber industry. But if Trump chooses to take more aggressive action in the next two years of his administration, this could dramatically change. This urgency, coupled with the recent global obsession with building tall wood structures, newly motivates American wood manufacturers to become independent of foreign suppliers. This would entail American manufacturers catching up in machine technology and production capacity to bolster domestic trade and support innovative architecture sourced from home.

What’s clear is that U.S. demand for wood buildings is there. The country’s largest producer of cross-laminated timber (CLT), SmartLam, has experienced such rapid growth since opening six years ago that it is building a new headquarters in Columbia Falls, Montana, and planning a second facility in Maine to supply what the industry thinks will be an influx of midrise construction in New York and other cities along the Eastern seaboard.

“The expansion here is simply driven by need,” said SmartLam CEO Casey Malmquist. “There’s always been a grassroots support for CLT in the U.S. and a recently increased interest in research and testing. But now we’re no longer speculating about whether it will work—it’s going mainstream.”

While similar Pacific Northwest companies like DR Johnson and Katerra, as well as firms such as LEVER Architecture and Michael Green Architecture, have long led the field, production is growing in uncharted territories. South Carolina–based LignaTerra is adding another plant in Maine, while Canadian leaders like Nordic Structures in Montreal and Structure Fusion in Québec City, which already supplied CLT to projects across the country, are now focusing more attention on supplying the eastern U.S. market. Production is even swelling in the South with Texas CLT LLC, which is reopening a mill in southwest Arkansas.

But pioneering European companies, which have historically dominated the market and supplied American developers, are now putting down roots in the U.S. Austrian giant KLH is partnering with International Beams’ new factory in Dothan, Alabama, by supplying it with glulam blanks. Having opened this past September, it is the first plant east of the Rocky Mountains to produce CLT in the country and will primarily utilize the unique Southern Yellow Pine native to the region.

These investments show that the race to build such production facilities is vital to the U.S. market becoming competitive with other countries. But many experts say we need to increase cultural acceptance of mass timber as well as get investors on board before the industry starts churning up a sizable profit.

“The real strategy is that the big manufacturers in Europe are focused on making franchises here,” said Alan Organschi, principal of Gray Organschi Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut. “They can produce higher quality products cheaper, even with overseas shipping, than manufacturers can in the U.S. and Canada.”

Organschi’s firm has been at the forefront of timber innovation for 20 years. He is confident the market is growing and will prove that by designing 6- to 14-story buildings, the sweet spot for mass timber construction. Dominique Briand, general manager of Canadian structural engineering firm Structure Fusion, is also optimistic about North America’s future, but feels certain that product-specific issues still need to be addressed before wood can match the quality of other structural materials like steel and concrete.

“The problem is the tools are not there,” Briand said. “There’s not enough manpower or knowledge to make or sell mass timber in the United States. Plus it’s a disorganized market, which creates a big gap between the product and the project.”

Briand believes that as long as timber is trendy, it will take young U.S.-based companies about five to ten more years to be competitive with Europe. In the meantime, architects, engineers, and educators are working to imagine groundbreaking designs at modest scales to ramp up domestic interest and encourage policy changes.

Many U.S. states are using financial incentives to entice manufacturers to locate to their respective regions. In Maine, both the state and federal governments have provided funding for the University of Maine’s extensive research to advance timber assemblies. Russell Edgar of the university’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center says the ultimate goal of this work is to organize the state’s supply chain in order to make Maine viable for these companies.

“People are talking a lot about South Carolina and Georgia since they grow trees like corn at such rapid rates,” he said. “But in Maine, we have proximity to these huge markets in New York and Boston, so we’re busy trying to find ways to get these companies here now.”

Sourcing timber products within 250 miles of a project is a huge advantage to practicing sustainability and boosting regional economies—not to mention a reason for rarely crossing borders for building materials. But a little competition is healthy, especially for lumber producers who want to bid in a fair marketplace.

“The more people there are, the better it will be,” said Briand. “I only worry that because we’re such a fast-evolving industry, a lot of companies will build huge facilities and focus solely on making and selling products. It’s not just about the products; it’s about creating strong business plans so the investment pays off.”

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International Code Council moves to embrace taller mass timber buildings

This article originally appeared as part of our January 2019 print issue in the timber feature. After over two years of testing and several rounds of deliberation, the International Code Council (ICC) has settled on a batch of modest code changes that will embrace tall timber buildings in the United States. The changes are due to take effect in 2021, after approval from ICC’s Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings (TWB) in December 2018. The 18-member TWB group is made up of fire, concrete, steel, gypsum, and wood specialists as well as architects, engineers, and code officials from around the country who have been working to craft the new codes and prove that tall wood structures can be built safely. Current regulations allow mass timber construction for only six-story structures and under, although a handful of taller mass timber buildings have been built internationally, including the 18-story Brock Commons Tallwood House in Vancouver, Canada, among others. The officials conducted research and performed multiple fire tests—including controlled burns of five two-story CLT structures at the National Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in Baltimore—to back the safety of their proposed changes. The new regulations, aside from officially defining mass timber construction types and specifying minimum dimensions for timber elements, will also include three additional construction types in the “heavy timber” (Type IV) category—dubbed “IVA,” “IVB,” and “IVC”—that establish building codes for 18-, 12-, and 9-story mass timber buildings, respectively. In 2018, Washington State became took the lead by incorporating tall timber codes into its building codes. Seattle-based architect and mass timber specialist Susan Jones of atelierjones spent two and a half years crafting these new standards with the TWB committee. As an architect who has spent ample time proving the safety of mass timber construction on a project-by-project basis, Jones welcomes the new regulations as a potential jumping-off point that might allow for even taller timber structures in the future. “The codes are solid and very conservative, given the performance the material showed,” Jones said. “But we had to start somewhere.”
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Shigeru Ban Architects burnishes its status as a leader in mass timber

Histories of innovation in modern building materials typically recount how muscular substances are sculpted in the hands of masters: Eiffel and his iron, Corb and his concrete, Gehry and his shiny titanium scales. Shigeru Ban Architects (SBA), on the other hand, has sought out some of the less heroic products of our age, sometimes using trash as inspiration for the next big thing in structural solutions; the firm works with humble materials, but its final creations are no less accomplished for it. Wood is one of these seemingly humdrum materials that SBA has long played with, but in the past decade or so, it has skillfully taken advantage of the material’s flexibility. SBA is quite literally taking timber structures to new heights, and is currently at work on both the tallest hybrid timber structure and the largest mass timber development in the world. With work around the world, the firm has pushed the possibilities of what glulam, cross-laminated timber, and other wood products can do—both formally and functionally—proving to skeptical local administrators that timber is a material that can meet and even exceed their building codes. It’s not every firm that has clients with the appetite to replicate some of SBA’s more adventurous projects, but still, the firm has some basic advice for working with timber: Dean Maltz, the partner in charge of SBA’s New York office, said that “timber forces you to collaborate with trades closely,” which, he stressed, is both a challenge and an opportunity. Because mass timber products are prefabricated off-site and still something of an anomaly in much of the United States, it is crucial from the beginning of the design process to work with experienced fabricators. That early investment in collaboration can pay off later, though—Maltz claimed that even the firm’s more complex timber designs were built much faster than comparable steel or concrete structures because timber components can be prefabricated with incredible dimensional precision. The firm’s use of timber is not arbitrary—rather, it uses wood tactically, albeit sometimes extravagantly, to meet aesthetic and practical goals. While international building codes can be something of a jungle when it comes to mass timber, SBA is blazing trails through the wilderness. Aspen Art Museum The Aspen Art Museum, which is essentially a big-box building, doesn’t go wild with formal gyrations. Instead, for this low-key Rocky Mountain ski town, SBA let the structure steal the show. A basket-woven wooden screen dapples circulation spaces along the perimeter with Colorado sun, and the firm’s trademark paper tubes make an appearance as playful interior walls and seating. But the firm’s ingenuity really shines in the massive exposed timber roof truss. The space frame–like system is cleverly composed of interlocking planar timber members that curve gently at corners, a detail that allows components to be joined by a single fastener. The resulting mesh allows light to filter down to the spaces below while bolstering the roof against the winter snowfall. Kentucky Owl Park SBA’s most recent commission in the U.S. is for a 420-acre distillery and recreational campus themed after Kentucky Owl bourbon. Like much of the firm’s work, the park’s design blends bold geometry with nods to historical motifs and materials: While the trio of identically sized pyramids at the center of the complex contrasts with the surrounding big sky bluegrass landscape, these exposed timber structures are redolent of 19th-century metalwork, the kind that might have enlivened the original Kentucky Owl distillery. Further, wood columns will be girded by metal loops as in traditional barrel construction, and trusses webbed with curves and loops will add a stylized flourish. Swatch Headquarters and Omega Facilities SBA’s forthcoming trio of Swiss buildings for a pair of watch manufacturers (sister companies under the Swatch Group) are a study in contrasts. The new production facilities for Omega are rectilinear and formal, structured by a precisely gridded matrix of exposed engineered timber. The new Swatch headquarters, however, snakes along the Suze River under an arched wood canopy that is punctuated by periodic distortions before leaping across a street to connect to the joint Swatch-Omega Museum, also designed by SBA. Upon its completion later this year, the complex will be the largest timber development in the world. Shonai Hotel Suiden Terrasse No single SBA project displays the versatility and formal possibilities of hybrid timber structures as much as the Shonai Hotel Suiden Terrasse, completed in September 2018 in northern Japan. The hotel’s spa sits under a low dome supported by timber beams spectacularly interwoven in the same pattern used in La Seine Musicale, while the hotel itself showcases a sober mix of timber, concrete, and brick components. But in a shared central building, a long, open space is covered with a thin pleated wood roof that floats as though it were nothing more than a piece of folded paper.
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Sidewalk Labs releases a new site plan for its Toronto neighborhood

Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs is continuing to refine its plans for Toronto’s waterfront Quayside neighborhood. The tech company released its first look at the mass timber development in August of this year and has now released a more in-depth breakdown of how its 12-acre site will be developed. The latest vision of Quayside comes in advance of a roundtable on December 8 with community members and elected officials, the second-to-last such meeting before the release of the master innovation and development plan in 2019. The new draft site plan, which Sidewalk Labs described as “more Jetsons, less Black Mirror,” has slashed the development’s height and set specific affordable housing and sustainability targets. Quayside, which will be 90 percent affordable in accordance with the area’s existing zoning, is leaning on mass timber for its mixed-use towers. The Vancouver-based Michael Green Architecture was tasked with creating a kit-of-parts that could work with buildings of every scale. Each building will be anchored by an open-air “stoa,” covered walkways supported by rows of V-shaped heavy timber columns. New York's Beyer Blinder Belle is responsible for the project's master planning. Development will now be clustered around 12 mixed-use mass timber towers, with the tallest topping out at 30 stories. The tallest building in the sensor-integrated smart neighborhood was originally supposed to reach 50 stories tall. Sidewalk Labs now expects approximately 5,000 residents to call Quayside home, and have earmarked 20 percent of the units as affordable, and another 20 percent as below-market rate. Fifty percent of the development’s housing will be rental units. On the transportation side, Quayside is positioning itself to connect with Toronto’s light rail network. The neighborhood is also looking into a “flexible street” system that can transition from supporting traditional cars to autonomous vehicles once the technology comes to fruition. Quayside is shooting to reduce emissions over a typical neighborhood by 75-85 percent through a combination of geothermal wells and solar panels. The timber used, all of it locally sourced in a boost to the Canadian lumber industry, will also produce less carbon dioxide emissions overall when compared to a typical concrete-and-steel building. As Engadget noted, Sidewalk Labs has been less-than-successful in its attempts to create a trust to oversee the massive amounts of data the neighborhood would collect on its residents. Last month, the project’s lead expert and consultant, Ann Cavoukian, quit over concerns that the trust would not be able to anonymize the information it was receiving. Following the final roundtables and the approval of a master plan in 2019, Sidewalk Labs expects construction of the project to last three to five years.
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LEVER Architecture revamps The Nature Conservancy’s Oregon HQ

  LEVER Architecture is currently renovating the Oregon headquarters of The Nature Conservancy in East Portland. The Oregon Conservancy Center (OCC), as the building will be known, is on track to becoming one of the first structures in the country to utilize U.S.-manufactured cross-laminated timber (CLT) made from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)–certified wood. Located at the corner of SE Belmont Street and SE 14th Avenue, the three-story structure will be revamped with an open-office space for the majority of its staff. LEVER will elevate the existing facade with a weathered steel rain-screen and high-performance glazing while building a one-story addition featuring mass timber. The newly built structure will house event space and a conference center, topped with a roof garden and an outdoor deck. The architects specified sustainably-sourced Oregon Juniper, CLT, and cedar from Oregon, Washington, and California in an effort to complement the Conservancy's commitment to energy efficiency and environmental stewardship. An array of photovoltaic panels will hover over the building and cover one-quarter of its energy use while a new variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system will assist in heat recovery. “We’re excited to be part of a project that embodies The Nature Conservancy’s commitment to protecting and restoring critical ecosystems,” said LEVER’s principal Thomas F. Robinson in a statement. “The design connects people and nature by integrating materials and landscapes that are specific to The Nature Conservancy’s priority projects around the state.”   LEVER is working alongside Portland real estate developer Project^ to get the building off the ground. Project^’s vast portfolio includes the award-winning Framework, the first wood high-rise permitted in the country. Construction on the OCC started in March and is expected to be done in early 2019. The building is set to receive LEED V4 Gold certification.
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Swedish political party asks architects to design timber neighborhood

The Center Party, a Swedish political party, has commissioned Anders Berensson Architects to design a speculative plan for a mass timber development in Stockholm. The design for the scheme was recently released without a timeline for execution. The development is a collection of towers and sky bridges built on top of the existing waterfront neighborhood of Masthamnen. The plan would leave the buildings below relatively untouched but would cap them with a public park and walkway level over which the new towers would rise. The designers embraced wood as a building material because it "releases the least carbon dioxide." Renderings show interiors and exteriors clad with wood finishes, and the architects describe the buildings using mass timber technologies like cross-laminated timber (CLT). The imaginative scheme is meant to provide additional housing close to the center of Stockholm, where the housing market is tight and space is expensive. There are no apparent plans to enact the proposal. The Center Party has worked with Berensson before on speculative designs for the city, many of which have included timber high-rises. The party has relatively little power to realize these ideas as they are the opposition party in the city's government, which is controlled by the Social Democrats. Timber has received a lot of attention in Sweden as a structural material for high-rises, although it's not clear what the country has been able to realize so far. Globally, mass timber is starting to make inroads as a standard building technique, but it faces a long road to widespread adoption in the U.S.
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Oregon becomes first state to legalize mass timber high rises

Thanks to a recent addendum to Oregon’s building code, the state is the first in the country to allow timber buildings to rise higher than six stories without special consideration. Portland has become something of a hotbed for timber innovation as of late. Carbon12, PATH Architecture’s eight-story glulam and cross-laminated timber (CLT) tower with a steel core, recently became the country’s tallest timber building and was set to be surpassed by LEVER Architecture’s 12-story Framework. Alas, that project was put on hold due to mounting financial difficulties last month, but it seems the precedent that the project achieved in securing a building permit from the State of Oregon and City of Portland will live on. The timber allowance comes courtesy of Oregon’s statewide alternate method (SAM), a state-specific program that allows for alternate building techniques to be used after an advisory council has approved the “technical and scientific facts of the proposed alternate method.” The allowance comes after the International Code Council (ICC)–the nonprofit group that Oregon models its building codes after–established the ICC Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings in 2015 to explore the benefits and challenges of using timber in tall buildings. A Committee Action Hearing was held in April of this year, where the Ad Hoc Committee, made up of code experts, stakeholders, and industry members presented their findings. All 14 of the committee’s suggestions were adopted, introducing standards and best practices for fireproofing, the load-bearing potential of CLT and heavy timber, water resistance, sealing, seismic ratings, and more. Three new building classifications were introduced as a result: Type IV A, timber buildings permitted up to 18 stories and 270 feet tall, Type IV B, timber buildings with a maximum height of 12 stories and 180 feet, and Type IV C, which is permitted to rise nine stories and 85 feet tall at maximum. The shortest of the timber typologies is allowed to use exposed structural timber as an interior finish, whereas the tallest, type A, must enclose all exposed surfaces and include a three-hour fire-resistance rating for the structural elements. “We congratulate the State of Oregon on becoming the first state to provide building code recognition for construction of tall, mass timber buildings,” said American Wood Council President & CEO Robert Glowinski in a statement. “Mass timber is a new category of wood products that will revolutionize how America builds and we’ve seen interest in it continue to grow over the last several years. This action by the Codes Division Administrator helps code officials in Oregon by making provisions consistent throughout the state. In adopting this new method, Oregon has also recognized the significant environmental benefits that accrue from greater wood product use.”
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Trump’s timber tariffs divide the construction industry

Last November, the U.S. Department of Commerce under President Trump announced an average of 21 percent import duties on Canadian timber products entering the U.S. The announcement was greeted with mixed reactions within the construction industry; builders claimed that the tariffs would increase the cost of construction, and American suppliers argued that the domestic timber industry would benefit, expand, and keep wood prices low. Single-family home construction in the U.S. relies heavily on Canadian softwood for roofing and framing. In 2017, Canadian lumber yards supplied 28 percent of the U.S. softwood lumber market, and home builders have been the first to raise concerns about the new duties, which were in effect by January. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) claims that the imposed tariffs have added approximately $9,000 to the cost of single-family homes and up to $3,000 on multi-family homes. The NAHB doesn’t believe U.S. domestic production is capable of meeting the current market demand and that the tariffs only hurt native manufactures by forcing them to increase their lumber prices. The NAHB is calling for the Trump administration to resume talks with Canada to secure a more mutually beneficial long-term agreement. David Logan, director of tax and trade policy analysis at the NAHB, says that historically, the U.S. lumber field has never been able to support rapid housing growth. “Buyers are still buying from the distributors they’ve always sourced from despite the tariffs,” he said. “Domestic lumber production has increased marginally in the last year, but it’s not kept up with the housing demand in terms of percentages, so it’s hard to say that we’re meeting the challenge. This has always been the case. We can’t meet that need...not even close.” Logan also argued that larger lumber companies in the U.S. are profiting unfairly from the deal, citing the Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser, which owns 12.4 million acres of forest in the U.S. alone and manages 14 million acres in Canada, as well as West Fraser, a Vancouver-based company that operates 48 mills across both countries. The NAHB claims that these companies are able to reap the benefits of both markets under the current trade agreement and likely won’t be affected if things change again. “We say over and over again that we need predictable and stable supply. That means using Canadian lumber,” Logan said. “Diversification of operations in the biggest mills on both sides of the border has really hampered any progress towards talking further about this issue because they’re able to increase production and do well. Prices have been so high there’s not really room for anyone but the big players to have a seat at the table, whether they’re Canadian or American.” The U.S. Lumber Coalition (USLC) rejects these claims. “Since the duties were implemented," the USLC wrote in a statement last week, "U.S. lumber shipments have increased by about 1.4 billion board feet, roughly filling the gap left by the decrease of Canadian imports. U.S. companies continue to invest in expanding their production capabilities to mill lumber from American trees by American workers to build American homes.” Pleasant River Lumber, a small milling company based in Maine, isn’t experiencing the negative side effects that the NAHB claims is coming out of the current tariffs on timber. In fact, the company is on track to complete a $20 million expansion at two of its four sawmills in the next 18 months. As part of the USLC, Pleasant River Lumber sources 95 percent of its lumber within the state of Maine and takes a bit from New Hampshire and Canada as well. Owner Jason Brochu is pleased with the country’s newfound focus on local production and plans to take advantage of it. “Increased demand due to forest fires and hurricanes in other states, spiked prices from the duties, heightened transportation costs, and a strong housing market all factor in to establish a level playing field for lumber production in the U.S. right now,” said Brochu. “We can’t compete against the government or any larger mills without things being equal.” Pleasant River Lumber is capitalizing on the growing lumber market by adding 50 percent more capacity to its production facilities and hiring 40 new employees as quickly as possible. They plan to boost production of their dimensional lumber from 200 million to 300 million board feet annually with the upgraded equipment. More importantly, they’re investing in their framing mills to address the increased demand within the housing market. “We believe we’re pretty typical of most mills in the country at this time,” Brochu said. “Most mills in Maine specifically are adding shifts or putting more money into mills to increase volume. We’re confident that the duties protect our rights as producers in the U.S. and we feel like the laws are working the way they should.” Brochu also emphasized how “relatively insignificant” framing lumber is in housing construction. USLC said the same thing stating that lumber makes up only 2 percent of the cost of a new home—which in 2018 stands at $368,500.  Framing lumber isn’t the only wood material that’s used to construct new homes. Plywood, which has zero duties imposed on it, flooring, and other timber products are also increasing in price. New York-based specialty wood-product manufacturer Hudson Company said the niche wood market has been affected as well. Two of its most popular reclaimed-wood products, both of which feature Canadian imported lumber, have both been impacted dramatically, says owner Jamie Hammel. Sales of silver pine siding are down by 60 percent, while hand-hewn beams are down 40 percent. “The reason our business is not down by 60 percent,” he said, “is because we sell other things. But we've had to limit the amount of volume we import because of the tariffs and we’ve had to diversify our product line to adjust and will continue to do. We’ve had to source more products locally which I guess was the administration’s goal.” The timber tariffs against Canada were among the first official duties placed on another country by the U.S. government since Trump took office. In the ten years since the Softwood Lumber Agreement (SLA) was established in 2006, the U.S. Commerce Department has allowed Canadian companies to sell lumber to the U.S. market at subsidized prices, lifting previously countervailing and anti-dumping duties as long as prices stayed above a certain figure. The SLA expired in 2015 and since then both countries have been unable to negotiate a new deal.   On behalf of the NAHB, Logan said that his organization doesn't foresee a new Canada-U.S. deal happening in the near future. “We don’t think the dialogue will reopen any time soon as long as the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations are ongoing. If history repeats itself...the last time this happened it took around 5 years to settle,” he said referring to the original SLA. “Hopefully I’m wrong and this is done very quickly. Until then, prices will maybe get a bit higher, but volatility will certainly increase.”
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Katerra acquires Michael Green Architecture as it expands into the timber market

Unicorn design/build company Katerra is continuing its impressive expansion from start-up to $3 billion tech-and-construction giant with the recent acquisition of Vancouver’s Michael Green Architecture (MGA). The Canadian architecture studio is known for pushing the boundaries of timber construction (including some of the largest mass timber buildings in the U.S.), and Katerra reportedly wants to use their expertise to bring down construction costs as well as better understand the material. The key to Katerra’s success lies in its vertically integrated business model; the company moves its projects through a single pipeline and handles everything from design, to engineering, to construction, using prefabricated modules to standardize the process. With $1.3 billion in projects under various stages of development–many of which are already framed with mass timber–the company is constantly searching for ways to optimize its production. Before acquiring MGA, Katerra was already hard at work building out their 250,000-square-foot cross-laminated timber (CLT) panel factory in Spokane, Washington. MGA had been an early adopter in the mass timber construction game, and the firm, jointly based in Portland, Oregon, as well as British Columbia, has continued to push timber towers taller. Joining Katerra, was for the 25-person studio, a natural progression according to founder Michael Green. It also happens to align the weight and financing of a major Silicon Valley player behind the studio. “Two values convinced me to join with Katerra,” Green told Vancouver magazine, “addressing our impact on the climate and making good architecture affordable. This acquisition gives us the opportunity to address both of those issues at scale.” Through the use of mass customization (using a kit of parts to design distinct buildings instead of a “one size fits all” modular approach) and mass timber, Katerra is hoping to lower its construction costs by up to 30 percent. While land prices are typically the largest slice of the development cost pie, Katerra is bringing down both its material as well as labor costs. But the choice was about more than that, according to Katerra's head of architecture, Craig Curtis. In order for the company to continue expanding, it would need to bring aboard more design talent, and MGA has had experience with timber buildings of all scales. On MGA's side, Katerra won't be fully consuming their practice, and the firm will still handle a stable of its own projects independently.
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Washington State is embracing mass timber construction

With a mix of recently-enacted and forthcoming legislation, Washington State is beginning to embrace mass timber construction. Washington State Governor Jay Inslee recently signed legislation for State Bill 5450, a new law that directs the state’s building code council to “adopt rules for the use of mass timber products for residential and commercial building construction.” The law will allow state and local jurisdictions to begin to work mass timber construction into local building and zoning codes, a first step toward the wider adoption of the construction technology. The law includes the requirement that rules adopted for the use of mass timber products by the state building code council “must consider applicable national and international standards,” a nod to the forthcoming changes to the International Building Code (IBC) that would institute new guidelines for mass timber structures rising as high as 18 stories. The proposed changes are currently under consideration by IBC’s Ad Hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings, which was established in 2016. The committee will begin collecting public comments on the proposed changes in April of this year. In a more aggressive move, the Washington State Legislature is also working toward enacting State Bill 5379 (SB 5379), a measure that would require all public buildings in the state rising 12 stories or less be built using Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT). The move is a natural one for Washington, which has a thriving timber industry and has some catching up to do in terms of mass timber adoption when compared to neighboring Oregon. According to the Washington State Department of Commerce, the timber industry brings in over $28 billion in sales annually across the state and employs over 105,000 workers garnering over $5 billion in wages. The potential law would make the state the first in the country requiring mass timber construction. Currently, SB 5379 is only in committee at the moment and a timeline for passage and enactment has not been released.
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Can mass timber help California build its way out of the housing crisis?

If California’s gubernatorial candidates are to fulfill their ambituous goal of adding up to 3.5 million new housing units across the state over the next eight years, new efforts will need to be undertaken to streamline and reform the state’s sagging construction industry—Could this effort create an opening for mass timber construction to take hold in the Golden State? It might, and here are a few reasons why. For one, there’s a growing push for new urban housing in California that could soon make the mid-rise apartment the state’s quintessential dwelling type. There’s strong reason to believe that if proposed regulatory changes go as planned, cities in the state could see a flowering of the kinds of four- to eight-story multi-family structures mass timber excels at delivering. With construction times running 15 to 20 percent faster than conventional building, there’s a potential mass timber technologies could help bring new units online very quickly, especially if minimum dwelling standards are set and municipalities streamline permitting and approval. Secondly, mass timber is becoming more widely-accepted as a building approach, reflecting a growing awareness of its inherent structural and fire-safety benefits. The nascent industry is cheering recent changes to the 2021 version of the International Building Code that will allow mass timber construction for structures up to 18-stories high. The shift could bring down the cost of building dense housing in the medium-sized city centers—downtown Long Beach, Glendale, San Diego, San Jose, and Oakland, for example—where lots of growth could happen but has so far been lacking. At these heights, it’s possible mass timber buildings could be more affordable to build than conventional structures while still delivering the height and structural resilience formerly only possible through concrete and steel frame construction. With San Francisco and L.A. building out larger transit systems and the state’s high-speed trail line on the way, it will be important to add high density nodes throughout the state to meet climate and housing goals. Cory Scrivner, a mass timber specialist with Structurlam, explained via email that with the coming changes to IBC and looming reforms to local zoning, “The market for mass timber will be growing significantly over the next few years.” With disruptive and new tariffs on foreign-grown softwood and imported steel and aluminum, its possible there could be further financial incentives to build structures made from regionally-grown timber, as well. Katerra, a Menlo Park, California-based construction technology and services start-up, is busy constructing a 250,000-square-foot factory in Spokane, Washington where it will produce mass timber products including cross laminated timber (CLT) panels. The company, which seeks to bring many aspects of the construction process—design, engineering, materials, manufacturing, and assembly—under one name while also modernizing the construction trades, is well-poised to play a role in California’s housing recovery. The company—which already has a functioning factory in Arizona—is growing, having just received a boost of $865 million in investment capital as it seeks to build out its network of regional manufacturing facilities Furthermore, because mass timber manufacturing is typically performed indoors with fewer workers and in advance of job site installation, mass timber construction also potentially holds the promise of side-stepping the state’s vexing shortage of skilled construction workers, one of the many unsolved structural repercussions of the Great Recession. According to Craig Curtis, president of Katerra’s architecture unit, the company’s factory-focused business model means that fewer—and differently-trained—workers are required on site. Instead of hammering nail to wood on a desolate job site, Katerra’s equipment operators and workers produce interior and exterior wall panels, roof truss assemblies, floor systems and countertops, among other building components in a factory. On-site, a crane and a well-trained team of workers assemble each new building in a fraction of the time compared to normative building practices. Curtis said over telephone, “[Addressing California’s housing crisis] is exactly the type of problem we are trying to solve—everyone deserves to live in a well-designed home delivered at an affordable price point.” And lastly, because each mass timber assembly is made to order, the so-called “mass-customization” potential of mass timber construction could also be a boon for the urban character of cities and residents alike, potentially resulting in a rich variety of building approaches and unit types. Might this variable approach even do away with the dreaded “stucco box?” Only time will tell. California’s housing shortage is a watershed event several generations in the making that will require proportional measures if it is to be adequately addressed. Given current understanding of what the mass timber industry is capable of producing, a rising wave of zoning reform, and growing funding sources for affordable housing construction, it might be time for municipalities and developers alike to take a look at this new building technology.