The Warmth of Wood Taken to New Heights

Posted: July 11, 2022

Mass timber, an engineered product of composite wood, provides a futuristic way to use one of the world’s oldest building materials



Towers of concrete and steel are expected in urban environments, but in a move that embraces the past and the future, wood may become the material of choice for more builders.

At Timber House in Park Slope, a 14-unit condo building set to open in the fall in the trendy Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood, residents will find themselves surrounded by wood ceilings and floors that offer a connection to nature. This will be the first condominium project in New York City to be built with mass timber, which consists of engineered and compressed layers of wood that are glued together for strength.

“People understand more than ever that being in a space built with natural materials makes a difference in how they feel,” said Eric Liftin, founder of MESH Architectures in New York City, the architect of Timber House. “There’s a wellness aspect of being surrounded by wood that includes a sense of positive energy and a sense of calm that are especially important in an urban environment.”

In addition to the appeal of its natural beauty, mass timber offers sustainability benefits such as a reduced carbon footprint, less construction waste and reduced emissions at construction sites. While mass timber construction has been common in Europe for years, it is anticipated to grow in popularity in U.S. cities since the 2021 International Building Code approved its use for buildings up to 18 stories. Previous codes capped mass timber buildings at a height of 85 feet, according to Paul Richardson, a mass timber expert and Boston-based principal of Buro Happold, a global consultancy. Residential mass timber buildings are also complete or under construction in Portland, Oregon; Cleveland and Seattle.

Nearly 1,400 mass timber projects were under construction or being designed for residential, commercial or institutional use in all 50 states as of March, according to WoodWorks, a nonprofit resource based in Washington, D.C., for building with wood.

“Being in a mass timber building is sort of like wearing a cashmere sweater,” said Jodi Hogerton, marketing manager for New Land Enterprises, developers of Ascent, a luxury apartment building constructed with mass timber in Milwaukee. “The wood has a warmth and softness about it that makes you feel comfortable. It also has this nostalgic feeling because at first the wood smells a bit like popsicle sticks.”

Sustainability Benefits of Mass Timber

While wood buildings have been around for centuries, the technology to produce mass timber allows it to be used for bigger spans and offers more flexibility, Mr. Richardson said.

“Mass timber combines sawn pieces of young wood to create larger panels and beams,” Mr. Richardson said. “You can create larger beams and have more flexibility with mass timber.”

Depending on the engineering technique used, mass timber can be called cross-laminated timber (CLT), glued-laminated timber (GLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT) or dowel-laminated timber (DLT).

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