What are some of the things that you find exciting about mass timber today?
A lot of manufacturers and maybe engineers will think that architects don’t like things that are standardized, but I love standardized things. I think if you can make that interesting and beautiful, that’s a really great creative challenge.
What are some of the obstacles to wider adoption of mass timber?
Definitely in Michigan, our building code. We’re super fortunate to have Sandra at MSU. She’s working with our legislators, and I know basically everyone that’s here from Michigan has written a letter to ask them to adopt the 2021 IBC. The most recently completed mass timber project is in Lansing, Michigan, and we went and did a tour with our client and with one of the contractors we were working with so they could see it. I think it’s getting everyone aware that it’s already built, you just need to make it happen more.
What do you think should be some of the common goals that the industry has around the development of technology?
Work collaboratively with your contractor, owner, and engineering team to make the most efficient use of the space so the money can go to the things that they’ll see. And then make it more affordable.
How are you pushing sustainability forward?
Ann Arbor has a really robust sustainability plan for a small Midwestern town. One way we are pushing sustainability forward is the embodied carbon, but two, we’re looking at sustainability in terms of making a sustainable community. And that’s really where we broadened our goal: We’re making a nice place for people to live. So, the way we shaped SouthTown is because of a desire to create a view cutting through it. The raised garden [at the center of the complex] will bring the community in; we’re thinking that it is more sustainable by including the neighbors. We’re leveraging the whole building as a sustainable building and the CLT as a component.
Does mass timber help achieve those sustainability goals?
We’ve pointed out to our contractor, the owner, and the planning commission, it goes up quicker. It’s a cleaner construction site that’s more sustainable. Those are really big components.
What advice would you give to other practitioners who are maybe where you were a couple years ago, starting their first project or wanting to get into the industry?
Reach out to organizations like Think Wood and WoodWorks. They’ve been so helpful. We’ve had a regional director from WoodWorks come in to talk about our floor assembly—how we were going to acoustically separate things, and some of our concerns on fire ratings early in the project. Getting into some of those really detail-oriented things before you’re even working on a project, so you can kind of wrap your head around it was really helpful for us. And then making sure you’re also getting experienced people. If it’s your first project in mass timber, find a structural engineer who’s worked on a mass timber project, because then they’re going to bring that knowledge, instead of it being the first for everyone on the team. There’s a huge learning curve, so lean on other people.
There is a growing community of people who have that expertise. Everyone seems eager to spread the knowledge and bring more people into the circle.
Yes. No one’s gatekeeping or hiding these things. It feels like open communication.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.