October 29, 2023

Army Corps Says: Consider Mass Timber | SLB October 2023 Newsletter


Program Updates

Army Corps Says: We Want You to Consider Mass Timber for the U.S. Army

Mass timber must be considered by all U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Project Delivery Teams when designing Army military construction and civil works vertical construction projects. That’s the directive shared in a recent bulletin that highlights the AWC, Think Wood, and WoodWorks as resources to consult.

The bulletin, which applies to all Army projects but is “highly recommended” for all military construction projects, also lists three mass timber projects that will be built by the Department of Defense over the next three fiscal years: a child development center at Virginia’s Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story, barracks at Washington State’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and a dormitory at Louisiana’s Barksdale Air Force Base.

The AWC has directly engaged with the Department of the Army to provide feedback on its construction contracting practices and to offer expertise as a resource as the department seeks to expand its use of mass timber systems. Army facility expansion and maintenance is expected to grow in the coming years. And the demand for low-carbon solutions is on the rise, opening new opportunities for wood products to fairly compete for funding that has, until now, been dominated by concrete and steel.


Think Wood Educates Homebuilders on Carbon Through EEBA

Think Wood is educating homebuilders on embodied carbon and the role wood can play in reducing their environmental footprint through an ongoing partnership with the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA).

In September, EEBA adapted a Think Wood blog post to publish “Five Sustainable Eco Homes Built With Style,” sharing five examples of homes using softwood lumber to maximize both environmental impact and aesthetic appeal with its audience of homebuilders. Last year, EEBA established the Net Zero Carbon Building Professional Designation with funding from the SLB.

“The growing emphasis on embodied carbon reduction within the high-performance building industry reflects the unwavering dedication of builders towards sustainable construction,” Aaron Smith, CEO of EEBA, told Think Wood.

“These visionary professionals recognize that minimizing the carbon footprint of building materials is not only essential for environmental preservation but also for creating healthier and more resilient communities,” he said. “By prioritizing embodied carbon reduction, EEBA members are actively contributing to a collective effort to combat climate change and promote sustainable development, ensuring a brighter and more sustainable future for generations to come.”


SLB-Supported Mass Timber Installation Training Continues Growth

WoodWorks’ mass timber–installation training modules are resonating with construction professionals, with the curriculum’s 10 units being viewed by nearly 1,000 people and downloaded nearly 6,000 times since being launched in January.

Positive feedback continues to come in. After reconnecting with an international general contracting firm at the 2023 International Mass Timber Conference, WoodWorks offered a presentation on the curriculum at the firm’s Seattle office. Twenty-nine people attended in person, and 12 joined remotely from the company’s Portland, Oregon, office—including project managers, superintendents, and trade crew leaders.

“We have composite crews of ironworkers and carpenters with varying levels of experience,” said the firm’s Director of Mass Timber and Prefabrication. “[It is] beneficial to have everyone in the same place discussing common items/situations that come up on jobs. WoodWorks’ presentations and materials are great because they outline all of the common scenarios encountered.”

To expand the curriculum’s reach further, WoodWorks has also made the training modules available on The Wood Institute.

In addition to this curriculum, WoodWorks has partnered with 17 worker training centers and three universities to develop mass timber–installation training programs, with two additional training centers and a fourth university set to begin training in 2024. With funding support from the SLB and USDA Forest Service, WoodWorks has provided 18 mock-ups to facilitate hands-on installation and train mass timber–installation workers as well as future design and construction management professionals. Since inception through the end of September, the program has trained 833 people totaling 18,207 hours.

Connecting Architecture Students With the Timber Industry

Time for Timber, a design studio at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture, is teaching students about innovative wood design and connecting them with the timber industry early in their careers. The SLB will provide funding to expand this course, taught by Tyler Swingle, after it received an honorable mention in the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) 2023 Timber Education Prize sponsored by the SLB.

The honorable mention recognition comes with accolades but no monetary award. Nonetheless, seeing Time for Timber as a particularly strong submission worthy of support, the SLB will step in to provide incremental funding for Swingle to expand the next iteration of the design studio. Direct funding of faculty, outside of competitive grants, is a new initiative that SLB Education will continue in 2024 with select faculty and schools.

Students in the upcoming studio will again use their understanding of timber research in architecture to come up with rigorous and experimental design methodologies allowing them to evaluate new possibilities of wood construction. The studio will collaborate with the USDA Forest Service in East Texas to develop prototypes of emerging wood systems with students working between digital and physical models to simulate innovative wood systems and methods of construction. The studio will encourage students to carefully consider the environment and local economy, specifically relating to forestlands, and it will highlight the importance of understanding forests and how we use their resources in our buildings.


Mass Timber Is Proving Its Value

There’s growing evidence that mass timber buildings are providing a strong return on investment when it comes to higher building values and commanding above-market rental prices. Near the front of the pack is Hines, a global real estate investment, development, and property management firm that invested in a series of tall mass timber office buildings dubbed T3, with outposts completed and planned across the United States and around the world. And its investment is paying off: “If we just look at the performance of our timber office buildings when we pro forma them, we were thinking that the rents would be basically right in the middle of traditional class AA creative office buildings,” said Steve Luthman, CEO of the U.S. Midwest and Southeast regions and Canada for the developer Hines, in an interview for a CBRE podcast.

Instead, “what we found in both Minneapolis and Atlanta is that our rents are at the very top of the market. We’re getting the same rents as the top of traditional class AA buildings in the city.” What’s more, Luthman said Hines sold T3 Minneapolis at a 3.75% cap rate in a market that rarely drops below 6%—meaning the project sold for a higher value than the market and project type would typically dictate.

And it’s not just Hines that is seeing gains as mass timber goes mainstream. In Atlanta, Sage Software is setting records with the $70-per-square-foot deal it signed at Ponce City Market’s under-construction 619 Ponce timber loft office (pictured above), according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. That is far above the BeltLine Eastside Trail’s average office-space rents of roughly $49.98 per square foot—some of the highest in town, according to first-quarter data from Cushman & Wakefield—and sets a new peak for the city. The four-story, mass-timber office building offers 85,000 square feet of office space, with 25,000 square feet of retail. As designed by Handel Architects, 619 Ponce is expected to be completed in 2024.

The performance of these and other mass timber projects demonstrates that investors and tenants are increasingly recognizing the value of mass timber’s sustainability, low carbon footprint, and ability to create a warm and welcoming environment for the people occupying the building.


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