Forest Service/USDA Wood Innovations Grants
Recipient Point of Contact: John Klein
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Mass timber is gaining momentum in the US, with developers interested in exploring the technology as a solution for their projects—especially as the material is now code-approved for up to 18 stories. Yet, the Architecture, Construction and Engineering (AEC) industry is notably hesitant to adopt new building methods. The primary obstacle preventing developers from committing to mass timber is the associated risk that results from uncertainty and unfamiliarity with these systems. To address this, Generate has partnered with a seasoned consortium of mass-timber specialists: Swinterton’s Timberlab; KL&A Engineers and Builders; Niles Bolton Associates; Jordan & Skala Engineers; Waugh Thistleton Architects; Mass Timber Strategy; Olifant LLC; and WoodWorks. The team established that the main obstacles holding back mass timber from widespread use are:
1. Costs: Project stakeholders do not have cost data on which to base rule-of-thumb estimates of construction and operational costs. The US timber supply chain, lacking demand, fails to become a mature, reliable, and cost-effective industry.
2. Constructability: General Contractors are often unfamiliar with the means and methods to build mass timber and are unwilling to rely on a new supply chain. Project stakeholders are concerned by the upfront effort needed for the implementation of innovative, sustainable systems.
3. Design Limitations: Stakeholders do not have experience with mass timber structures to compete in the residential market against concrete/steel. Architects struggle to find compatible floor assemblies with acoustic and fire properties and lack the know-how to design efficient lateral systems.
Certainty and predictability are needed in the mass timber construction space. An open-source, code-compliant, cost-effective, replicable system developed by an industry-leading consortium will streamline cost analysis and supply chain integration to enable large-scale deployment across the US. The target market for the proposed system will be the US multifamily sector in the 7-12 story range, which accounts for a total addressable market of 200M sf/year. The system will be designed for the major housing markets of Boston, Atlanta and Denver, and will serve as a template for the AEC industry.