Mass timber, proven to be a sustainable and attractive material for urban construction has found little success in the mid-rise market and even less so in the commercial sector. Imitating the structural language of traditional steel and concrete material systems, the inherent material properties and tectonics of mass timber have not been fully explored to the detriment of its wider adoption. Similarly, contemporary workplace concepts such as Activity Based Working (ABW), although aiming to facilitate the diverse activities that take place in the office, the architectural implications of this planning system are typically not well considered and have little interaction with the structural system.
In response, this design led research seeks to develop the interaction between mass timber structure and workplace planning at a urban mid-rise scale, suggesting ways mass timber, as a unique architectural language, can change future workplace design. This research curated a large body of work critiquing existing precedents and exploring methods of mass timber implementation in contemporary workplaces through design. Drawing on this body of work, three prototype designs were developed to a preliminary level and one final design to a detailed resolution on 55 Vivian Street, Te Aro, Wellington.
The developed case study design concludes with a panellised layered arched mass timber structure, proposing a radical shift in the current tectonic language utilised in commercial mass timber buildings. Embracing the inherent properties of mass timber, the architectural expression revolves around complex interactions with the urban context, a varied structural planning grid, integrated façade and ABW furniture systems. The case study design demonstrates how sustainable technologies are not only appropriate, but beneficial for the future of the urban contemporary workplace and the adoption of ABW concepts. And that expressing the properties of mass timber can lead to unique approaches to the structure, creating opportunities to express the tectonics of mass timber at all levels of architectural design: the urban, planning and detail.