Perspectives April 10, 2020

From Tree to Building: A Mass Timber Field Trip with Nordic Structures

By Matt Covall, Senior Project Manager in our San Francisco studio
image: DCI Engineers

Just like any industry, there are also trends in building materials. Today, recent technologies and testing are allowing us to re-envision the potential uses of one of the world’s oldest and most common materials, wood, in new ways. The developments we are seeing with Mass Timber presents our industry with an exciting and game changing opportunity that holds great promise from a sustainability standpoint.

Mass timber caught my attention. As both a natural material and a renewable resource, building with wood provides a tactile quality and warmth to the interior environment, paired with a reduced manufacturing/supply chain footprint, and a dramatic difference in embodied carbon it holds in comparison to steel and concrete. As an architecture firm, we began researching the types of mass timber and eventually incorporating cross-laminated timber (CLT) on a smaller project–learning the ins and outs of designing a mass timber building. So, when SKS Partners asked us to design their office building at 1 De Haro, we made the case for building it entirely with wood. The result: a 4-story plus mezzanine building, when complete, will be the first CLT building in San Francisco and the first multi-story, mass timber building over a concrete podium in California.

Our CLT manufacturer, Nordic Structures, invited the team – SKS Partners team, DCI Engineers, Perkins&Will, and contractor Hathaway Dinwiddie – to visit their facilities. For an architect, this is the ultimate field trip!

Our trip began at Nordic Structures headquarters in Montreal where we went over project specific items and hashed out some of the design details. Then we boarded a small plane for the sawmill town of Chibougamau in central Quebec. With forest management and manufacturing all under the same corporate umbrella, Nordic Structures grows, harvests, mills, and engineers a variety of mass timber products all on the same site.

Nordic Structure’s forestry division manages nearly 4 million acres of black spruce.
Their sustainable process includes harvesting +/- 80-year-old trees -- their ages roughly less than the lifespan of a building. This truck carries about 500 black spruce logs.

The off-loaded logs enter the factory via conveyor belt and head into the debarker.

The logs are sorted by size and then digitally scanned for width, diameter and length to optimize dimensional lumber output per tree.

Once the sizes for each sort are determined, the logs proceed to the saws to be ripped down to size, ripped into dimensional lumber, and then stacked for drying.

The mass timber products we chose to work with on 1 De Haro, include glulam columns and beams and cross-laminated timber panels for the floors and roof. CLT is the composite layering of dimensional lumber glued together linearly in perpendicular layers.

Much like the CLT panels, the glulam columns and beams are CNC milled to exact specification to create a kit of parts ready to be efficiently assembled onsite.

When Nordic completed the production of Mass Timber materials for 1 De Haro’s timber, the entire order was put on rail and delivered to Sacramento, where it was then driven to San Francisco by truck. Nordic’s ability to customize their products enable project’s like 1 De Haro to come together quickly once the wood arrives on site.

With each project that incorporates mass timber, architects and builders are becoming more familiarized with the material. My guess is that we will be seeing much more of it. Personally, I’m already looking for my next mass timber project.

If you’d like to learn even more about mass timber and 1 De Haro, check out this brochure.

Project Manager Matt Covall, Project Architect Mansi Maheshwari, and Designer Chris Hague