The Softwood Lumber Board (“SLB”) sponsored an initiative with a prominent Chicago architectural firm, Skidmore Owings & Merrill (“SOM”), to establish the structural viability of a prototype 42-story mass timber framed building. The SLB is all about promoting the benefits and uses of softwood lumber in outdoor, residential, and non-residential construction and this project was a win-win for industry and the environment.

The “Timber Tower Research Project” report, released by SOM last month, benchmarked this new structural solution against an existing concrete-framed apartment building in Chicago also designed by SOM, but in the 60s. The new prototype uses an efficient structural combination of mass timber, concrete, and steel that reduces the carbon footprint by 60% to 75% of its concrete benchmark. Mass timber is the primary structural material for this system and SOM did consider constructability, cost, and fire protection in developing this design.

While the report and support drawings demonstrate the technical feasibility of meeting building codes, additional research and testing will be necessary to verify the performance of the new system. SOM and other architects are working on approaches that allow for SAFE, well-engineered large-scale WOOD buildings that address sustainability in constructed environments.

The design community will have to work creatively with forward-thinking municipalities and code officials to evolve building codes that make timber buildings a viable alternative for more sustainable tall buildings.

Next steps are to pursue the additional research and physical testing recommended in the report. This project advances the desirability, use and product development of softwood lumber, all part of the SLB mission. But the bottom line is sustainable building, more demand for lumber, and job creation — a win for our industry and a reduced carbon footprint – a win for the environment!

Wouldn’t it be great to see the Pacific Northwest get behind this evolving view of what green building is all about? How about considering local wood products for the long-rumored Portland Sustainability Center!

Steve Zika
CEO, Hampton Lumber