Think Wood: So what makes Timberlab unique?
Rose Boleen: When you think of construction, you think of a general contractor or a subcontractor. And what makes Timberlab unique is that we have a general contractor background, but our mindset is really in innovating specifically mass timber, pre-construction, early design phase connections, and then fabricating these pieces to precise tolerances to then eventually install them. And so we’re a part of every single aspect of the mass timber building itself. By bringing together both the visionary and the technical, the engineering and the fabrication, Timberlab is putting more and more mass timber projects on the map—and it’s very exciting to be part of it.
How did you end up in the world of mass timber and what was your first mass timber project?
I joined Swinterton—the founder of Timberlab—through an internship and I moved out to Oregon for the summer. It was there that I got my first experience working on mass timber projects—the First Tech Federal Credit Union, the largest mass timber building in the U.S. at the time of being built. And that was Swinerton’s first stab at turnkey mass timber installation. And I was very eager in my career early on and I said, “I want to be in the field, I want to be rigging panels, I want to be hands-on labeling them and installing them.” So I was out there putting eye hooks into CLT panels and getting them rigged for the crane to set them into place. So that was my first experience with mass timber.
It’s impressive to think how far Swinteron has come in the last six years, eventually forming a whole new division [Timberlab] of our company. And being one of the first 10 people to be a part of this group has been really special. I had no idea that’s where this would take me.
What does Timberlab offer as a distinct group of specialized timber excerpts?
We have a dedicated engineering department, virtual design department, and manufacturing department—and experts in each one of those areas for support that is specific to mass timber construction and design. I can reach out to get input on design details that may not have been fully engineered yet or if I need to do a different fabrication on it, I can troubleshoot and collaborate early in the process. This input is really helpful on projects, and I think having the right people embedded internally in our company really gives us an advantage when presenting the solutions to architects and clients. It’s very powerful to have all the knowledge we have in-house.
Sounds like you have a passion for mass timber—what drives that?
I love the positive impact mass timber can have on the tenants and occupants. I heard a really beautiful story that someone’s daughter worked in an office that was made out of mass timber—and this is post-pandemic, so they’re all going back to the office. She found that she actually loved going to the office more because it was a mass timber building and she felt excited to be in an environment that was welcoming and made her feel good. I think it’s exciting to hear, after people have been working from home for so long, that mass timber can help bring people back together in a beautiful space. I’m hoping to see more offices, public spaces, and even apartments incorporate the bright, welcoming environment that mass timber can provide. I like to hear that we’re truly making a positive impact on people’s everyday lives.
What are some challenges when it comes to mass timber construction and design, in your first-hand experience?
Weatherproofing and keeping the product dry are things that design teams need to keep in mind. Eventually, it would be great to see a lower-cost, fully weatherproof fastener that I can install in the rain and not have to worry about it getting wet and corroding. Availability, supply, and timelines can be a challenge, although those are improving. In the future, I think we’ll see more and more suppliers come onto the market and prices will be competitive.
When it comes to sustainability, I think we still need to dive into how we can reduce emissions, especially in transporting mass timber products. Having more facilities across the country, closer to projects, could help with that. Training is also a gap. For the PDX Terminal Core Redevelopment, we have trained up to 40 different people on how to use these products. It helps increase the adoption of mass timber as more and more folks share their knowledge.