Colleges present Mass Timber, in research and in exhibition
Solid wood, an engineered wood product that offers durability and durability benefits, has become increasingly prominent in colleges across the country, where it is included not just as a concept in the curriculum but also as a material in campus buildings.
Experts say universities are helping to raise awareness of solid wood – layers of wood held together with glue or nails – by demonstrating its potential as a low-carbon alternative to steel and concrete.
“Our college and university clients have really embraced the imperatives of climate change,” said Ellen Belknap, president of SMRT Architects and Engineers in Portland, Maine. “I am delighted that universities are leading the way.
But significant hurdles stand in the way of the widespread use of mass timber: Suppliers are mostly limited to Canada and the Pacific Northwest, and upfront costs are higher than for steel and concrete. Despite these challenges, developers are finding that solid wood is growing faster, helping them recoup upfront costs faster.
“The building goes up much like a montage set,” said Sandra Lupien, director of MassTimber @ MSU, an education and outreach program at Michigan State University.
Liam O’Brien, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of Maine, is part of a team trying to develop a cross-laminated timber panel insulated with wood fiber. Such insulation could be made with waste from wood processing and, if put into prefabricated panels in a factory, further reduce construction time and cost.
Mr. O’Brien, originally a forestry student, turned to wood science as he became fascinated with the carbon-reducing potential of cross-laminated timber panels, which consist of multiple layers of planks stacked in alternating directions and stuck together with adhesives.
“It’s material that should take off in the United States as long as we can convince people,” O’Brien said. “Building science can play an important role in how we respond to climate change.”
Long used in Europe, cross-laminated panels are so strong that they are suitable for walls, roofs and floors. And they have a number of other benefits: they capture carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere; they are more durable than other building materials, such as steel and concrete; and they are exposed, adding aesthetic appeal.
Massive wood construction has resumed in the United States in recent years, and universities have been a driving force. Most of the activity is in heavily forested states, including Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Oregon and South Carolina, where widespread use of the material could help develop or to revitalize the forest industry.
The University of Arkansas is among those at the forefront. “We’re almost a place of pilgrimage for a lot of people,” said Peter B. MacKeith, the dean of the university’s Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, who added that he helped persuade campus officials of the benefits of solid wood. The Fayetteville campus now has two buildings displaying the hardware and a third en route.
By using solid wood in a library storage annex, completed in 2018, the university saved more than $1 million over the original steel and concrete plan, MacKeith said. He added: “That’s when people start to sit up and say, ‘Well, maybe we should at least consider this as an alternative form of construction.'”
Adohi Hall, a 200,000 square foot residence hall built of solid wood, opened in 2019. It consists of two five-story buildings connected by a common area.
“It’s this set of rather upscale spaces – there’s a warmth, visual and atmospheric, that students really appreciate,” MacKeith said. “And commercial developers come to see it. It is analogous to multifamily housing.
Soon, the university will open the $33.5 million Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation, designed by Grafton Architects. It will house the school’s graduate program in wood and wood design (among other programs) and allow students to build large-scale mass timber prototypes, with a focus on affordable housing and new building technologies.
“These buildings are a proof of concept in terms of time efficiency, cost savings and a safer construction site,” Mr MacKeith said.
Michigan State University has built the state’s first mass timber building: the STEM Teaching and Learning Center, which was adapted from a former power plant and incorporates cross-laminated panels into the frame , floors and ceilings. The building has become a magnet for industry professionals, about 1,000 of whom have visited since it opened last year, said George H. Berghorn, assistant professor of construction management at the School of Planning. , design and construction of the university.
“It’s just a beautiful building,” he said. “A lot of students go there to study even if they don’t have classes there.”
But a lack of knowledge remains a barrier to wider adoption of solid wood, Berghorn said. To that end, the university recently received a $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency that funds scientific research, to develop a national model mass timber design and construction curriculum for programs. of architecture, engineering and construction.
Clemson University in South Carolina received a $1.1 million grant from the Department of Energy to help expand the use of solid wood. There, researchers are developing a floor system made up of cross-laminated timber panels that can span about 40 feet, double the current industry practice. They are also looking for ways to harmonize the system with other building components, such as conduit and electrical conduit.
Such an all-in-one system would reduce the need for so many structural beams and potentially speed up construction, said Dustin Albright, deputy director of the university’s school of architecture.
“We want to provide an all-in-one approach to the flooring system that provides the flexibility to go in and access these components, but do it in an all-wood way,” he said.
Clemson has two log buildings on its main campus: the Samuel J. Cadden Chapel and the Andy Quattlebaum Outdoor Education Center, which uses southern yellow pine. Researchers installed wireless humidity and vibration sensors at the recreation center, completed in 2020, to collect data on the building’s long-term performance.
Various universities are studying the viability of local manufacturing. The state of Michigan is tracking demand for solid wood and analyzing what the full supply chain might look like, with the goal of providing that information to potential manufacturers, Lupien said.
At the University of Maine, landowners, architects, lumber fabricators and construction companies are sharing information through the Maine Mass Timber Commercialization Center, in hopes of eventually making the business case for the manufacture of cross-laminated timber.
“What we’re trying to do is reduce any technical hurdles or questions a company might have before setting up a manufacturing operation here,” said Stephen Shaler, professor of sustainable materials and technologies at the university’s School of Forest Resources. Working with an industry partner, the university successfully qualified cross-laminated timber made from Maine lumber for construction.
But Ms Belknap, the architect, thinks demand will have to rise significantly before it makes sense to open a local production facility.
“When Boston, New York, Philly and DC are building with tall lumber,” she said, “then it will make economic sense to set up a manufacturing plant.”