Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the Competition?

The Competition was the first step in a process to showcase the safe application, practicality and sustainability of tall wood structures (minimum 80 feet in height) that uses mass timber, composite wood technologies and innovative building techniques. It was established to provide scientific as well as technical support to encourage and support the design and construction of tall wood demonstration projects within the U.S.

Who were chosen as the winners and why were they chosen?

The chosen winner was Framework: An Urban + Rural Ecology, a 12-story project in Portland, Oregon that will be constructed primarily of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and will support a distinct blend of functions including street-level retail, office, workforce housing, and community space. The main community space is designed to include a public Tall Wood Exhibit, featuring resources related to the realization and design of the building. Beneficial State Bancorp, in partnership with real estate developer project^, affordable housing investor Home Forward, and LEVER Architecture, proposed Framework as a redevelopment of their Pearl District property in Portland, Oregon.

How will the winner apply their prize funds? Will additional funding be required?

One of the main barriers to the use of new building materials and systems is a lack of risk capital available to support the added costs of analyzing novel design and engineering alternatives, as well as verifying that these solutions comply with applicable code(s). The winning project received $1.5 million to embark on the exploratory phase, including the research and development necessary to utilize engineered wood products in high-rise construction in the U.S.

How does the winner propose to overcome current building code restrictions around building tall with wood?

The winning project received $1.5 million to embark on the exploratory phase, including the research and development necessary to utilize next-generation lumber and mass timber products in high-rise construction in the U.S. While the current U.S. building code does not allow for more than six stories of wood frame construction, the Framework project team obtained permission from the State of Oregon and City of Portland to proceed following completion of a stringent Performance-Based Review process that included a series of fire, acoustic and structural tests and oversight by an expert peer review team.

What is the Competition background and who are the partners involved?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in a cooperative partnership with the Softwood Lumber Board and the Binational Softwood Lumber Council – both U.S.-based forest industry initiatives – organized the Competition to support the demonstration of tall wood buildings in the U.S. The goal was to support employment opportunities in rural communities, maintain the health and resiliency of the nation’s forests, and advance sustainability in the built environment.

Who were the judges in the Competition?

The Competition jury members represent distinguished experts in the architecture and engineering community, including:

  • Thomas Maness, Dean of College of Forestry, Oregon State University
  • Andrew Waugh, Founding Director, Waugh Thistleton Architects
  • Alan Organschi, Principal, Gray Organschi Architecture
  • Kate Simonen, Associate Professor, University of Washington, College of Built Environments, Department of Architecture
  • Daryl Patterson, Head of Operational Excellence & Development, LendLease


What were the evaluation criteria for the Competition?

Proposals were evaluated in the following main categories:

  • Proponent profile and expertise
  • Support from the authorities having jurisdiction
  • Use of expertise and growth of rural U.S. communities
  • Viability of the proposed, alternative or hybrid wood solution
  • Amount of money requested and how the funds will be utilized
  • Project timelines
  • Height and expected number of building stories
  • Potential regional or national impact of the project
  • Environmental footprint and the potential market impact

What are the benefits and advantages of constructing tall buildings with wood?

Wood buildings deliver more in terms of their beauty, versatility, and performance. Wood can also be a low carbon alternative to steel, masonry, and concrete in many applications.

What are the advances that are making tall mass timber wood buildings a reality?

The advances and improvements that are making tall mass timber buildings a reality today stem from the results of full-scale fire, seismic, durability, acoustic and vibration tests being conducted internationally by researchers and engineers. Advances in wood connectors, hybrid materials and building systems (using wood, concrete, and steel), the commercialization of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), and off-site prefabrication have all provided more options for the safe and effective design and construction of taller mass timber buildings.

How have legal restrictions (building regulations etc.) affected the development and implementation of tall wood buildings?

The distinction of ‘combustible verses non-combustible construction’ has restricted the development of mass timber technologies for the construction of taller structures. However, new technologies, products, and systems are available today that weren’t available or as well understood in the past. Scientific research and testing over the past five years, as well as the construction of more than 17 tall mass timber buildings (seven stories or taller) around the world, has provided building officials, designers, contractors and consumers’ confidence that these buildings are safe and resilient.

Can construction of a tall wood building positively impact the environment?

Tall buildings are a vital element in any urban setting as they make the best use of limited space. Compact cities promote sustainable transportation methods such as walking, cycling, and public transportation. Tall buildings also have the ability to be more energy efficient than single-family residences through the use of efficient central services and higher overall building volume to surface ratios (shared floors/ceilings, minimal weather exposed surfaces).

What is the environmental impact of constructing tall buildings with wood?

The choice of products used to build, renovate and operate structures consumes more of the earth’s resources than any other human activity. Wood is the only major building material that grows naturally and is renewable. In the U.S., forest management is strongly regulated to ensure that forests are legally harvested and managed to meet society’s long-term demand for forest products.

Wood is also the only building material that sequesters carbon, thus significantly reducing the overall carbon footprint of a project. In A U.S. Forest Service-sponsored life-cycle assessment study found that using wood in lumber and panel products yields fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other common building materials such as concrete and steel.

Will an increase in specifying wood negatively impact the world’s forests?

No. The answer to this question has several elements:

  • Deforestation is the permanent conversion of forest land to non-forest land uses. In the U.S., stringent sustainable forest management practices restrict harvesting levels, while additionally maintaining other forest values such as biodiversity and wildlife habitat. In the U.S., the rate of deforestation due to forestry activity has been virtually zero for decades. (Source: State of the World’s Forests 2011, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization)
  • Standing forest inventory is also affected by change, insect, disease, and fire. While the forest mortality rate has been steadily increasing, the overall rate of loss remains less than 1% of the growing stock. This means that the overall standing inventory of softwood and hardwood continues to grow even with harvest and natural mortality factored in. And, because increasingly popular products such as Cross Laminated Timber have the ability to utilize lower grade dimensional lumber, there is an opportunity to utilize a large percentage of forests devastated by insect and disease. (Source: Smith et al., 2009)
  • Strong markets for wood products provide an incentive for landowners, not only to invest in forest management but to keep forested land with forests. According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than 44 million acres of private forestland could be converted to housing development in the next three decades. In the U.S., where 57 percent of forests are privately owned, strong markets for wood products help to ensure that landowners derive value from their investment.
  • Wood is the only building material that has third-party certification programs in place to demonstrate that products being sold have come from a sustainably managed resource. As of August 2013, more than 500 million acres of forest in the U.S. and Canada were certified under one of the four internationally recognized programs: the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Canadian Standards Association’s Sustainable Forest Management Standards, and American Tree Farm System (ATFS).