HILLSBORO, Ore. — As a crane lowered a “glulam” beam and construction workers on either end deftly guided it into connection with two upright wooden columns, a tour group member shook his head and said, “It’s like Lincoln Logs.”
Kind of. Which may in part explain some of the attraction of builders and designers to the potential use of strong, precisely engineered, carbon-storing wood beams, columns, wall panels and floor decking. As Chris Evans, a Swinerton Builders project manager put it, wood is the first building material people use to make the forts, homes and hideouts of childhood.
These days, builders and designers are joining mill owners, university researchers and policy makers in taking a fresh look at advanced wood products, “mass timbers” and what’s come to be called “tallwood” design. Advocates believe it can replace concrete and steel in mid- to even high-rise buildings, and provide an economic jolt to rural Oregon in terms of forest management and mill jobs.
In Hillsboro, Evans and Swinerton Builders are overseeing construction of the largest known U.S. building to date that uses cross-laminated timber, or CLT, for flooring, and glulam posts and beams.
The Oregon headquarters of First Tech Credit Union will be five stories and high and have 156,000 square feet of office space. Swinerton Builders is the general contractor.
Another tall wood building planned for Portland, called Framework, will be 12 stories high and will have five floors of affordable housing, That project was awarded a $1.5 million federal design competition grant to help with seismic and fire testing and certification.
Oregon is trying to jump start the technology and potentially revive its timber industry. CLT panels, made by layering lumber in alternating directions and bonding them with adhesive, can be up to 65 feet long and 20 feet wide. DR Johnson Lumber Co., in Riddle, Ore., was the first U.S. manufacturer certified to make CLT. Meanwhile, Freres Lumber Co., in Lyons, Ore., is opening a milling facility to make similar “mass plywood panels” out of veneer.
Oregon State University’s forestry and engineering programs have partnered with the University of Oregon’s architecture program to form the TallWood Design Institute at OSU.
About 50 people took part in an Oct. 3 tour of Portland-area projects organized by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute, and heard talks by architects, builders and developers. For now, speakers said, mass timber construction is more expensive than concrete and steel, but is much quicker because of the way pre-fabricated sections can be fitted together. Experts said the technology will be “open sourced,” meaning it will be available for replication elsewhere, which should speed market expansion.
At the First Tech building construction site, architect Scott Barton-Smith said wood is an authentic regional material in the Pacific Northwest and “part of the solution” when it comes to carbon sequestration.
He also talked about the warmth of wood products.
“The best reason to use wood on a building like this is because it’s beautiful,” he said.