Carefully composed with an eye toward the poetics of its materials, Chicago-based architect John Ronan’s new 173-unit Globeville Affordable Housing complex in Denver looks to inspiration from the surrounding neighborhood’s industrial past.
“Globeville is where Denver located its dirtiest industries, like smelting,” Ronan says. “This history informed our selection of sustainable CLT for the building structure.” It’s a fitting choice for the neighborhood, but also for the larger Denver area, which is becoming something of a hub for potential mass timber construction in the U.S.
The two U-shaped apartment blocks each place five stories of CLT-framed residential units atop one-story cast-in-place concrete pedestals. The resulting second-floor courtyards face north and west and will be planted with trees of the same wood species as the adjoining buildings’ structure, either cedar or Douglas fir. The library, which will serve the broader community, will be housed in the concrete podium and have an entrance on Washington Street, which runs along the east side of the property.
The design calls for prefabricated mass timber components with up to 18-foot CLT spans joined plywood spline connections; bearing walls are set perpendicular to the exterior walls. Each unit is 10 feet tall and its length varies in 10-feet increments. A 5-ply CLT floor was chosen as the most economical 2-hour fire-rated floor assembly that also met acoustic and vibration control requirements.
Ronan’s work has always been known for his dexterity with materials. At Globeville, the architect has conceived the building’s exterior with a nod to the area’s blue collar industrial past. The east building will be clad in corrugated Cor-ten steel while the west building is clad in corrugated galvanized metal. Early design studies suggest a variety of configurations for the metal panels with each option providing an alluring contrast with the exposed wood behind glass. While the design remains in development and could change in its details, it is in deft hands.
Ronan wanted to avoid a design that hid the mass timber behind the exterior cladding. “[This] often results in CLT buildings that look no different from other buildings from the exterior,” he says. “To combat this, we are putting glazing in front of the CLT on the façade so that you can see the structure from the building exterior.” By deliberately mis-registering the glazing panels and CLT openings so that each glass panel covers both the window opening and the adjacent structure, Ronan exposes the CLT as part of a lively façade that makes the most of each of the building’s materials.