Perspectives 03.10.2021

Mass Timber Comparisons: Two San Francisco Case Studies

By Senior Project Manager Matt Covall, Senior Sustainability Advisor Dalton Ho, and Senior Project Manager Sarah Knize

Steel and concrete may be the materials of choice for the majority of construction world-wide, but mass timber is gaining attention as a sustainable alternative with additional benefits from its wellness properties as well as time and cost efficiencies. Mass timber refers to engineered wood products that are made up of smaller wood pieces combined together in ways that create a structural strength comparable to steel and concrete, but without the weight and production-intensity. For decades, the U.S. has watched as these products have been put to the test in European and Canadian commercial, healthcare, institutional and even high-rise construction. While restrictions are beginning to relax, U.S. building codes still vary widely by state and city. Unfortunately, what is new to the Bay Area market is also seen as untested and therefore untrusted.

Our firm began working with mass timber in 1995 and has done more than 30 mass timber projects world-wide. In recent years, our San Francisco studio has been able to apply the firm’s mass timber experience to the local market in two distinct projects. In an effort to help break down the barriers to wide scale adoption of mass timber, the San Francisco studio and its project partners are opening up the curtains to offer a clear view of the behind-the-scenes decisions, challenges, and lessons learned. Coincidentally, each of these projects analyzed mass timber alongside either a steel or a concrete alternative through the schematic design phase for comparative purposes.

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