Takeaways from the 2024 International Mass Timber Conference

Mass timber continues to gain momentum and it’s a sight we structural engineers love to see. For more than a decade, Coughlin Porter Lundeen has spearheaded mass timber in the region and successfully engineered mass timber solutions for multiple market types including K-12 and higher education, residential, and commercial office. Our team is passionate about showcasing the versatility of mass timber as a structural system.

 

We eagerly returned to the 2024 International Mass Timber Conference in Portland last month to attend the world’s largest mass timber gathering. An array of industry partners, from design to manufacturing to construction, gathered for three days to share new technologies, insights, and inspiration in a collective effort to drive the mass timber industry forward. Structural engineers Jason Whitney, Kristen Smith and Sam White returned with highlights from their trip.

Sam White  //  Meeting with Manufacturers

The annual convention gives us an opportunity to connect with our fellow mass timber connoisseurs. It’s invaluable to speak with manufacturers and trade partners in person (instead of virtually!) and to see all of the different products and technologies on display.

Sam spoke in depth with MTC Solutions about the ongoing fire testing they’re conducting with their Ricon-concealed beam hangers. The goal is to eliminate the need for fire caulking or intumescent tape around connectors and achieve a two-hour fire rating. “Detailing connections for fire ratings can be quite difficult, so results from this testing would help simplify that process. It was especially insightful to see their sample connection on display. Since it had been tested, you could see how the wood chars away and exposes the connector.”

Sam also met with Rothoblaas and Hilti about their point supported connectors to get a better idea of their testing and how they help work with jurisdictions to implement their products (which do not have ICC reports yet). “Point supported mass timber systems work well in certain market typologies so achieving solutions that don’t require testing are critical for mainstream implementation. We want to have a good understanding of what manufacturers are providing and how we can incorporate on projects.”

Takeaway: Manufacturers are making amazing technological strides. Keeping up with this evolving technology will help economize our designs and reduce cost.

Kristen Smith  //  Celebrating Sustainability

The session that stood out most to Kristen was ‘Transparency in Materials, Carbon Accounting, and Next Life Reuse’. The session focused on tracking the embodied carbon of buildings using lifecycle assessments, and how mass timber compares to other structural materials.

“The sustainability aspect is what draws me, and so many others, to mass timber design. It was invaluable to hear about what others are doing (either the same or differently!) when tracking this data. Several comparative case studies, including a study about the emissions and implications of different end-of-life assumptions, proved especially interesting since we really don’t truly know what will happen to the carbon stored in our mass timber structures when the building’s life ends.”

Takeaway: Mass timber continues to impress when tracked against sustainability metrics. But our assumptions, and how we track and measure, must be continually refined.  

Jason Whitney  //  Coordinating with Contractors

Jason’s favorite session focused on ‘moisture mitigation’. While it’s a topic more appropriate to contractors, we are always very involved, helping to coordinate and document the appropriate moisture mitigation strategies for our mass timber projects.

“It was great to see one of our projects, Fairview Middle School, showcased among others. And it’s so important to hear what measures others in the industry are taking to protect the timber in our climate. Sealers, temporary membranes at roofs, and non-wood panel splines are highly encouraged!”

Takeaway: Techniques to protect mass timber from the elements in the Northwest are still very much in the early stages of understanding and development. We’re all learning on our own projects and from each other by sharing experiences and lessons learned.

Further Inspiration

NHERI Shake Table Testing
All three of our Coughlin Porter Lundeen attendees agreed that it was impressive to see the direction mass timber lateral systems are headed with the highly successful 10-story NHERI shake table testing at UCSD. Post-tensioned mass timber rocking walls were tested and a FEMA P-695 study is underway to develop parameters that can be used for seismic design in future building codes. Currently only concrete and steel lateral systems are codified and practical for mass timber more than 1-2 stories. It’s exciting to see the progress being made.

Diversity and Inclusion
The conference also made an intentional effort to focus on Diversity and Inclusion. Emily Pilloton-Lam gave a truly inspirational keynote speech talking about her nonprofit program in the Bay Area, Girls Garage. She has created a space that removes the prejudice and bias of women in construction. This allows them, mostly young, grade school students, to learn trade skills in a welcoming environment where they are supported and mentored by other women. They have done great things for their community and inspired the conference attendees to find ways and opportunities to create spaces that support women in our industry.

We’re excited to be a part of mass timber’s future here in the Pacific Northwest, and beyond! Current mass timber projects in construction include:

Kaiser Borsari Hall construction at Western Washington University is almost finished. The lab building applied a glulam post and beam system with a CLT deck for gravity while using a hybrid lateral system of steel braced frames and the CLT decking for the structural diaphragm. The diaphragm uses portions of the CLT to not only resolve shear and moment but to also act as a collector to deliver load to our braced frame system.  Image © Western Washington University

Asa Mercer International Middle School uses a combination of mass timber and steel framed construction. A three-story mass timber classroom wing is being constructed with CLT decking, glulam beams, and columns, while a two-story mass timber spine with sloping glulam columns ties the three distinct zones of the school together.

35 Stone expects to reduce energy use by at least 25% from that of a comparable mixed-use office building. Multiple structural options meticulously considered carbon sequestration, cost, and complex programming needs – ultimately deciding on a DLT mass timber system.

While very different from one another (a lab, a school, and an office), each found ways to achieve repetition in the framing and connections, critical for making mass timber a success, while integrating unique forms that support the architect’s design. Another recipe these projects utilized was full team commitment: owner, design team and contractor. While these concepts aren’t new by any means (we’ve been recommending them for years!), they are discussed at the conference year-after-year, recited by us when working with mass timber-minded clients, and are absolutely essential to a mass timber project’s success.

The team left the conference excited, inspired, and eager to share with coworkers and clients. They also left with even further evidence that mass timber is the future of construction.

“The many benefits of mass timber are hard to ignore. It’s the future of construction given its carbon sequestering sustainability attributes and cost competitiveness when compared to traditional steel and concrete systems. It has great structural properties and many product offerings that can serve a variety of purposes. Not to mention how wonderful it is to look at and experience when finished!” — Jason Whitney, Structural Associate

We’re looking forward to next year’s event.