What are some of the benefits you found from using mass timber?
It will provide beautiful, warm environments and will help boost the ceiling height to over nine feet in the units and 12 feet on the ground floor. That is a real plus, especially when building micro suites, as it gives more light and a greater sense of openness, contributing to a sense of well-being. We will also be able to take advantage of modular prefab construction, so we can frame and get the structure up a lot quicker. It’s well-suited to smaller urban infills. And then of course the sustainable properties associated with mass timber make it a no-brainer.
Why is it important to consider sustainability, biophilic design and using materials like exposed wood, in an affordable housing project?
I think with any project, not just affordable housing, it is important to consider these things. At the same time, our organization is long-term mission-driven, maybe more than a traditional developer. So we go above and beyond for a lot of these types of things, knowing that we are building affordable housing as part of a long-term sustainable development strategy. With mass timber, we can sequester carbon into this solid form and as a building material it’s going to have a lot more longevity—you could potentially even use those CLT panels for another project in the future if we think in terms of design for disassembly and re-use. That’s something that we should all be striving for. Beyond this, we are doing things like not including parking but instead making sure there’s excellent walkability and access to transit.
As a public agency, do you see CADA as needing to take a leadership role to showcase innovations to the wider industry, such as the case of using mass timber?
Absolutely. And I think that’s certainly already happening in Sacramento. The Sonrisa is a great example and so we’re happy to share our findings and knowledge. We’re sharing everything from design details and pro forma to acoustical studies. These projects can help everyone in the industry as we learn together and fine-tune our best practices.
What are some of the learnings you can share when it comes to mass timber and affordable housing?
I think generally working together really closely early on a mass timber project is important. There are many things that are happening at once and you don’t always identify what pieces are missing from the drawings until you are actually working with your sub-consultants. As much as possible, you want to have that really close upfront coordination, checking everything out, that everyone is on the same page and has thought through what things potentially could go wrong. Giving close attention to delivery schedules of mass timber panels is also key. For the Sonrisa project, it took three days for the truckload deliveries to arrive and we had to figure things out between the delivery schedule and when people are working, factoring in weekends and holidays.
Any last words or advice to other industry professionals or public agencies looking to take on a mass timber project?
Innovation can be overwhelming and a little scary. It’s understandable that developers are looking for certainty. I definitely recommend reaching out to the growing community of mass timber experts in the field. Developing a close collaborative, trusting, working relationship between the owner, architect, and contractor can really make a difference when it comes to mass timber projects. You can never go wrong reaching out to other successful design teams. I would certainly recommend connecting with others in your region who have successfully completed mass timber projects.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.