Interest in mass timber as a construction material has boomed over the last few years. While it may seem like an architectural fad, builders are already reaping the benefits of large-scale structural wood systems.
Here’s a look at why mass timber has garnered so much interest, some incredible mass timber projects from around the globe, and why we think this material will only become more popular with time.
What is mass timber?
“Mass timber” describes timber products that combine laminations of multiple layers to achieve greater strength than traditional lumber. Commonly used examples include:
- Cross-laminated timber (CLT)
- Nail-laminated timber (NLT)
- Glue-laminated timber (glulam)
These products can be used on their own or in combination with traditional construction materials (such as steel or concrete) to create the building superstructure.
Why use mass timber?
According to the Fortune article, Timber Rises Again for Building Construction—and Google Is All for It, “the push comes as timber becomes more cost competitive as steel prices rise, and the use of pre-fabricated wood panels allows for quicker construction with less labor.”
The stats to back up these claims are already out there, courtesy of a research report by the American Wood Council:
- Construction time on a mass timber building is reduced up to 25% compared to steel, concrete, or light wood frame counterparts.
- Mass timber offers 90% less construction traffic (trucks delivering materials) and requires 75% fewer workers on the active deck.
Along with this, mass timber allows builders to improve sustainability, increase efficiency, and explore exciting new architectural opportunities.
Notable projects using mass timber
- T3 Minneapolis
Location: Minneapolis, United States
Designed by Michael Green Architecture (MGA) and DLR Group for real estate firm Hines, T3 — short for “Timber, Technology, Transit” — is a seven-story, 220,000-square-foot structure. It’s currently the tallest mass timber building in the United States, at 138 feet.
- Stadthaus Tower
Location: Hackney, England
Stadthaus is a nine-story residential building and the second tallest timber residential structure in the world. Stadthaus is the first high-density housing building to be built from pre-fabricated CLT panels. It’s also the first building in the world of this height to construct stair and lift cores entirely from timber.
- Forté Living
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Forte Living is a 10-story apartment building made from CLT. Standing at 105.6 feet, it is the world’s tallest modern timber apartment building. It is also the first Australian building to be made from CLT.
Location: Brumunddal, Norway
Mjøstårnet is a 280-foot-tall tower constructed entirely out of cross-laminated timber. It’s all wood—even it’s elevators are built from CLT, and its large-scale interior trusses are glulam. The architects used locally-sourced materials to build the soaring structure, which features a series of wooden fins on its western facade and an open-air rooftop with a sculptural timber topper.
- SideWalk Labs Development
Location: Toronto, Canada
Alphabet company Sidewalk Labs has enlisted wood advocates Michael Green Architecture to design flexible, mixed-use timber buildings for its three-million-square-foot Quayside project. If the 12-acre site is developed as planned, it will become the largest timber project in the world.
What about fire safety?
A common knee-jerk response to mass timber construction is concern about fire safety. Unlike traditional lumber, cross-laminated timber consists of layers of wood glued together to form solid, thick panels that can be made in custom dimensions. Tests have shown this type of timber has good levels of fire resistance — close to three hours in some cases — even when unprotected, according to Ottawa-based government agency National Research Council Canada.
Additionally, when the code requires mass timber to be protected with gypsum wallboard, the mass timber can achieve nearly damage-free performance during a contents-fire burnout event.
The future of urban construction
While it might not be the right choice for every project, mass timber isn’t just a fad: the industry as a whole is beginning to embace timber as a more efficient and more sustainable way to build. This ever-expanding roster of mass timber projects signals a new generation of practices that help address the urgent need for more eco-minded construction in our urban centers.