California Promotes Architectural Innovation Through Mass Timber Competition

In California, the Governor’s Forest Management Task Force and the Office of Planning and Research announced the winners of their first-ever competition designed to highlight a category of engineered wood products known as mass timber. As the need for forest, wildfire, climate, and housing solutions grows, California is moving to expand the use of these innovative wood products, which have the potential to sequester carbon, drive healthy forest management, and increase affordable housing in California.

Through the Mass Timber Building Competition, the State is awarding a total of $500,000 to four projects that demonstrate mass timber’s potential to help address multiple challenges while creating new rural economic opportunities. Mass timber encompasses a variety of large-format panelized wood products, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail- or dowel-laminated timber, and mass plywood panels, that can be used both decoratively and structurally—even in tall buildings. Since engineering creates its strength and structural integrity, mass timber can be made from a variety of wood materials, including relatively small-diameter trees or trees that are dead or dying due to insects or disease. By creating more demand for these typically less-desirable byproducts of sustainable forest management, it could provide an incentive for landscape restoration efforts that reduce the risk of high-severity fire, such as forest thinning.

The Fifth – Los Angeles / Michael Maltzan Architecture; Skid Row Housing Trust, $200,000 Award. Image © Michael Maltzan Architecture

“As California seeks to reduce catastrophic wildfires, mass timber offers a solution for materials that result from forest management efforts—a solution that can avoid air quality impacts while storing carbon in buildings expected to have life spans of 100 years or more,” said Kate Gordon, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and the Governor’s senior advisor on climate.

Designers favor mass timber as a construction material for its strength, fire resistance, aesthetic, construction efficiency, reduced carbon footprint, and ability to work both alone and alongside other materials as a structural element. Mass timber is more commonly used for construction in Europe, but the last decade has brought an increase in mass timber as a structural element in North America; Canada, Washington, and Oregon are actively working to mainstream mass timber in the built environment.

“A centuries old building model—utilizing large timber for construction—can show us the way to the future of building,” said Jennifer Montgomery, director of the Governor’s Forest Management Task Force. “Wood is a green, renewable source of carbon-sequestering building materials that will help address environmental, social and economic issues.”

California is the largest consumer of engineered wood products west of the Mississippi River, yet none is produced in the state. By showcasing opportunities for mass timber, State agencies seek to stimulate the demand for buildings constructed using mass timber and generate investor interest in potential in-state production capacity while advancing California’s climate change and green building objectives. In addition to creating economic opportunities in rural areas, locating manufacturing in California would reduce the cost of mass timber and make it a more cost-effective building material to increase affordable housing stock in urban areas where transit and amenities are within walking distance.

California College of the Arts Campus Unification Project – San Francisco / Studio Gang Architects; California College of the Arts, $200,000 Award. Image © Studio Gang Architects

“Increased use of mass timber can benefit forest health and rural economic development, while reducing carbon emissions related to construction in California,” said Jennifer Cover, president and CEO of WoodWorks, which administered the competition. “The winning projects further highlight the design possibilities of timber and encourage wider adoption of its use throughout the state and across the country.”

In recognition of mass timber’s multiple potential benefits, the 2018-19 State budget allocated $500,000 in prize money for the Mass Timber Building Competition, organized under the Forest Management Task Force with leadership from Office of Planning and Research, Natural Resources Agency, and Government Operations Agency. A panel of expert judges selected the four winners (and two honorable mentions) that will receive support and recognition to build projects that demonstrate mass timber’s potential. 

Winning Projects in the California Mass Timber Building Competition:

California College of the Arts Campus Unification Project – San Francisco

California College of the Arts Campus Unification Project – San Francisco / Studio Gang Architects; California College of the Arts, $200,000 Award. Image © Studio Gang Architects

This campus unification project by Studio Gang Architects was selected for a $200,000 award. The 107,000-square-foot four-story mass timber hybrid demonstration project is part of a campus expansion in the heart of San Francisco and utilizes CLT and glulam mass timber products. The goal of this project was to unite the College's programs and strengthen relationships via a creative ecosystem of art-making facilities and landscapes. A concrete and glass hub of maker spaces and yards on the ground level is both physically and visually connected to the canopy of wood-structured pavilions above, which hold community social spaces, additional art-making areas, and outdoor classrooms. The flexible and adaptable plan is meant to promote interdisciplinary interactions.

The mass timber elements form layers of vertical and diagonal members, directly expressing the structural forces shaping each pavilion. This allows the structures to become an inspirational and educational tool, offering insight into design thinking and the process of making. Mass timber was also desirable to the College for its sustainability, with the aim of making the project carbon neutral.

The Fifth – Los Angeles

The Fifth – Los Angeles / Michael Maltzan Architecture; Skid Row Housing Trust, $200,000 Award. Image © Michael Maltzan Architecture

Another $200,000 award was given to Skid Row Housing Trust for a highly visible project at the eastern edge of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. Michael Maltzan Architecture designed the 77,190-square-foot, 14-story building, which will include 150 studio apartments and will serve disadvantaged residents formerly experiencing homelessness. The Fifth utilizes nail-laminated timber, glulam, and plywood, and is intended to be a model for future mass timber multi-unit housing.

The responsible approach to the land scarcity in Los Angeles is to build up and build dense, but the most cost-effective option, traditional wood-frame construction, is limited by code to six stories. Building higher than that would typically trigger a switch to concrete construction, which becomes cost-prohibitive for all but large, highly-profitable projects. The Fifth aims to address this gap between affordable housing projects and the cost of high rise construction. Mass timber can allow for taller affordable projects that provide enough unit density to have a measurable effect on the amount of homelessness in Los Angeles.

Orange County Sanitation District Headquarters – Fountain Valley

Orange County Sanitation District Headquarters – Fountain Valley / HDR; Orange County Sanitation District, $40,000 Award. Image © HDR

The new headquarters for the Orange County Sanitation District received a $40,000 award for their 109,000-square-foot hybrid building. A public lobby and lighting designed to showcase the wood interior at night, on a large, high-profile project such as this, will hopefully promote the use of mass timber in other projects of its type. The use of CLT and glulam, along with the project's high sustainability and resiliency goals, provide an important large-scale replicable model.

The hybrid steel and timber structure utilizes steel lateral systems to help streamline approvals, providing a further possible template for others to follow. More high-quality materials included in the project include an exterior of terra-cotta and metal cladding and high-performance, two-way structural curtain wall glazing.

Sunnydale Community Centre at the Hub – San Francisco

Sunnydale Community Centre at the Hub – San Francisco / Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects; Sunnydale Development Company, LLC, a partnership between Mercy Housing California and Related California, $40,000 Award. Image © Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

The Sunnydale Development Company was awarded $40,000 for a community center within San Francisco’s Sunnydale and Visitacion Valley neighborhood. The 31,000-square-foot building will house youth and family programs and recreational amenities on one of San Francisco’s most distressed public housing sites. The team chose CLT and glulam for this project for its biophilic, sustainable, structural, and aesthetic qualities when designing the warm and inviting community space. The exposed wood structure is a simple scheme meant to take advantage of mass timber's increased construction speed and decreased waste.

Mass timber brace frames are showcased in key locations throughout the design via framed, glazed openings. These brace frames also allow for a more open exterior skin with more access to daylight and views. The mass timber beams and girders will also be exposed and visible at locations where programming requires long spans to demonstrate their structural capabilities. The architects at Leddy Maytum Stacy hope for the project to have an impact on the entire neighborhood by showcasing the possibilities of mass timber construction, the importance of environmental responsibility, and by providing beautiful architecture in a previously-distressed community.

Two projects received honorable mentions in the competition:

The Stages at Northstar – North Lake Tahoe

The Stages at Northstar – North Lake Tahoe, California / Williams + Paddon Architects; Tahoe Regional Arts Foundation, Honorable Mention. Image © Williams + Paddon Architects

Tahoe Regional Arts Foundation's 75,000-square-foot free-form mass timber building set amidst the forest will serve as a central arts hub for the region. Williams + Paddon Architects utilize CLT and glulam in their design for the performing arts complex. Over 22 acres, the project is designed to support indoor and outdoor performances, exhibits, and festivals, as well as provide opportunities for youth drama programs. Mass timber forms the primary structural system, allowing for reduced structural mass and therefore reduced foundation and lateral load-resisting system requirements. The design flexibility provided by mass timber for creating complex curves and its aesthetic warmth were appealing to the team, along with its sustainability and ability to sequester carbon.

Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus Expansion and Renovation

WRNS Studio's 640,000-square-foot two-story mass timber project with a living roof is part of the renovation and expansion of Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Campus.

The awards will fund activities that include cost studies, permitting fees, and information exchange sessions with code officials. Additional details about the competition and winning projects are available here.

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This competition was submitted by an ArchDaily user. If you'd like to submit a competition, call for submissions or other architectural 'opportunity' please use our "Submit a Competition" form. The views expressed in announcements submitted by ArchDaily users do not necessarily reflect the views of ArchDaily.

Cite: Megan Schires. "California Promotes Architectural Innovation Through Mass Timber Competition" 04 May 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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