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Dispatch from the 2019 International Mass Timber Conference

Dispatch from the 2019 International Mass Timber Conference

First Tech FCU’s corporate office building in Hillsboro, Oregon | Photograph © Jeremy Bittermann

Hayley Wilson
April 16, 2019

Last month, Portland hosted the International Mass Timber Conference, which brings together over 1,000 cross-laminated timber and mass timber experts and enthusiasts from around the world each year. For an industry still getting its start in the U.S., this conference is a rare opportunity for folks from across the industry – architects, contractors, manufacturers, and developers – to share knowledge and lessons learned, explore new strategies and innovations, celebrate each other’s work, and plot the course for future CLT and mass timber buildings.

2018 was a breakout year for Hacker in the mass timber world: we wrapped up a corporate office building for First Tech Federal Credit Union, which is (for the time being) the largest CLT/glulam building currently complete in the U.S.; we broke ground on our second fully CLT building – District Office – which will also be the new permanent home for the Hacker studio in Portland; and we started design on several other mass timber projects across the U.S. that will complete over the next few years. Needless to say, it was an especially exciting year to participate in the Mass Timber Conference’s panels, presentations, and tours to present our work and what we’ve learned from it in the last year:

Principal Corey Martin made an earnest pitch for designing and building with CLT at “Shark Tank: How to Sell the Why 101,” going beyond the time and cost benefits and getting straight to the heart of why we really love working with clients to design with wood: it creates beautiful, evocative spaces that feel good to the people who occupy them.

At “Market Rate Cost Comparison: Real World Project Examples,” Associate Principal Scott Barton-Smith presented a case study using cost data from First Tech FCU. As part of our early design process for this project, Hacker performed a side-by-side analysis to compare the potential benefits of CLT and steel structural systems for First Tech. The data we collected demonstrates the significant time and cost savings that CLT made possible for our client and offers a valuable real-world example for others seeking to identify similar benefits.

Hacker also hosted a tour of our studio at Clay Creative, a mass timber building with core and shell designed by Mackenzie and tenant improvements by Hacker, with virtual tours of First Tech FCU and our other currently-underway mass timber projects.

Our top takeaways from Mass Timber Conference 2019:

1. Advancements in mass timber prefabrication are changing how we design and construct buildings. The ability to prefabricate more components requires thorough digital modeling that uncovers conflicts, construction sequencing issues, and efficiencies prior to field design. This process helps to maintain construction schedules and design intent, and quantify project savings. Cree by Rhomberg encouraged attendees to apply “platform thinking” concepts to the CLT industry, advocating for designers to think of buildings not as one-offs, but as prototypical models that can be applied throughout the world. Nu Living shared how the skilled labor shortage in the UK paired with growth in the manufacturing industries created the opportunity for prefab and modular construction to take root. We are especially excited by the prospect of new technology, products, and prefab manufacturing capabilities that could shorten the duration of on-site construction and improve construction accuracy, thus saving even more on cost.

2. Sustainable, responsible forestry practices and the success of mass timber design and construction are intrinsically linked. The only way for wood buildings to make an impact on climate change is to ensure that the materials we’re using are sustainably sourced and managed responsibly. The accumulative carbon benefits of sustainable harvesting and cyclical replanting far exceed the benefits of one-time harvesting strategies. Blue Forest Conservation discussed how the increased use of mass timber products can help improve forest health. Blue Forest’s Forest Resilience Bond is a public-private partnership that uses private investment to help fund critical forest management. As our climate changes and the frequency and intensity of wild fires increase, understanding our impact on the land, from where the timber products are sourced to how that timber is harvested, will ensure healthier ecosystems and communities.

3. We want to see more architecture firms designing with CLT, and to be a resource for our peers who are just beginning to explore what’s possible with mass timber. There is data around the saved time, saved money, and higher leasing rates, and improved retention that help tell the story of why to design buildings with CLT and mass timber. Since the Conference, we’ve received so many insightful, genuine questions about how. This has renewed our resolve to share what we know and help to build out the global network of people, firms, and industries working with CLT. Hacker is currently collaborating with WoodWorks to develop CLT design guidelines and best practices, and we regularly consult with private and public developers seeking insight on how to create a successful process for a CLT project, and we hope to continue sharing our research and lifting up the benefits of mass timber.

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