Crescent Terminus in Atlanta, GA consists of three luxury apartment buildings, each with three levels of parking topped with five stories of wood-frame construction. Architecture: Lord Aeck Sargent | Photo: Richard Lubrant

The ways people want to work and live are changing, driving demand for walkable communities, mixed-use developments and high-density housing in urban centers and the suburbs. Commercial clients are demanding new kinds of work spaces defined by openness and collaboration. Multifamily owners are transferring those desires to the residential space with units featuring open floor plans and amenity-rich common areas.

Stella is a five-story Type III-A wood-frame building and four-story Type V-A wood building on a shared Type I-A podium. Wood’s affordability allowed the project team to maximize height and area while still providing resort-style amenities.

Designing for Value

Visually appealing, well-designed buildings and interiors can also support developers’ and investors’ ROI. Wood specification, both aesthetically and structurally, can add to the value of a building and can improve its durability. Well-designed places become well-loved places, which can contribute to higher rents, greater appreciation in value and better utilization.

A survey of buildings demolished in one city found that wood buildings had the longest lives on average—most over 75 years—and longer than concrete or steel buildings. Service life had little to do with material durability (only 3.5 percent were demolished due to structural or material problems) and more to do with land use, maintenance and user preferences.

Choosing Wood

For architects, developers and investors seeking to design for long-term value, wood:

  • Provides flexible thermal properties. Wood is an excellent insulator. By adapting the thicknesses of wood, architects can dial in the thermal properties called for by the local climate.
  • Offers inherent moisture buffering. Properly treated for its climate and with adequate ventilation designed into the structure, wood naturally buffers moisture without compromising integrity and has excellent longevity and durability, even in wet climates.
  • Delivers seismic resilience. For buildings in regions with seismic activity, naturally flexible wood and the types of connectors used in wood framing and other structural elements can offer a degree of motion that would cause structural damage to more rigid materials.
  • Has advantageous acoustic properties. Designing a space for people to enjoy means accommodating their experience. Wood can be formed to amplify and enhance sound—or mute it.

Visitors to the Scott Family Amazeum are greeted with curved glulam roof, while the entrance pergola features both Southern Pine decking and exposed cedar beams. Cedar tongue and groove wood paneling both wraps the exterior and lines the interior. Architect: Haizlip Studio | Photo: Jeffrey Jacobs


Learn more about the Scott Family Amazeum

Using exposed glue-laminated timber (glulam), architects designed a soaring, 34-foot, three-story-high canopy with exposed glulam joists and beams for the Scott Family Amazeum discovery museum, a visible testament to the strength of wood and a nod to the natural environment surrounding its home in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Wood has a continued role to play in smaller-scale construction across the country, such as light-frame commercial and residential projects where a durable, economical structural option is required.

Along with its aesthetic attributes, wood’s strength, acoustic and thermal qualities, and low environmental impact deliver an economic advantage to projects of all sizes that seek to minimize their structural and environmental footprints.

Wood structures easily accommodate building mechanicals and allow for shared floors and ceilings, helping design teams achieve taller floor heights. Ultimately, the material’s flexibility and adaptability mean it can be shaped, treated and used in a variety of roles, structural and aesthetic, making it a multipurpose option for both tall wood and light-frame building design.

The thriving mass timber movement has been a defining factor in wood’s growing use in larger office and multifamily structures. In cities such as Minneapolis; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, wood is returning as a structural element in mid- and high-rise buildings, triggering renewed growth in the wood products industry nationwide.

These buildings benefit from the long spans and tall floor plates that mass timber construction affords. The wood structures are often left exposed, allowing occupants to benefit from the natural material’s known psychological and physiological benefits while limiting costs associated with typical finish materials. For example, rooms with exposed wood have been linked to lowered blood pressure and a greater sense of comfort among occupants. In healthcare and senior living environments, specifically, designers are embracing biophilic design, rediscovering the power of wood and other natural building materials to improve patient experiences and outcomes, as well as staff performance.


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