They might not be the cheapest or easiest materials to work with, but commercial developers who want their structures to stand out from the pack should look at unusual choices like cross-laminated timber or prefabricated glass-on-aluminum panels in constructing their next office building or hospital, said panelists at the session on “Cutting-edge Building Skins and Structures” at CRE.Converge 2017.
Cross-laminated timber isn’t made from large trees and old growth forests; rather, it’s typically fast-growth spruce and Douglas fir cut in panels of about 10 feet by 60 feet. These are glued together at 90-degree angles to construct mid-rise, 6- to 10-story buildings that are lighter and more sustainable than steel and concrete, said Steve White, principal at Fentress Architects.
“Building with wood in large structures is doable,” he said, adding that his company is about to construct a 12-story building in Portland, Oregon, that will be the tallest of its kind in the U.S. “It’s a real differentiator in terms of product being delivered onto the market. It’s absolutely stunning.”
Building owners are asking for laminated wood because it reduces the carbon footprint, looks great, and can be constructed more quickly with fewer people, which is especially helpful when the labor market is tight, White said. Wood is also one-fifth the weight of concrete, which helps if you’re dealing with substandard soils – or building on top of a parking deck.
In addition to the Portland building, White cited a seven-story structure in Minneapolis that’s under construction, a 10-story project in New York that’s in design, and recently completed buildings in Quebec City (12 stories) and Vancouver, an 18-story laminated timber structure that’s the tallest of its kind in the world.
Glass-on-aluminum facades and other complex building “skins” can benefit from a “design assist” phase to ensure projects work out as planned, said Jeffrey Vaglio, Ph.D., vice president, advanced technology studio, Enclos Corp. The geometry of such structures can be repetitive, but it also can be very complex. “How do you introduce the constructability know-how of specialty contractors earlier in the process?” he said.
Such projects began in the healthcare sector, some with straight rectilinear geometries but others more curvilinear, Dr. Vaglio said. From there, the concept migrated into civic projects like museums, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., where Dr. Vaglio’s company recommended lighter, cheaper material for the signature latticework on the exterior.
Another project that benefited from design-assist was the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which features 700 different glass panel geometries and strikes a ripple and wave effect on the exterior. “When you’re seeing a job like this come across your desk, you ask, ‘How do I price this?’ You have no historic data to look at,” Dr. Vaglio said. “Get design assist involved in your conversations.”
Now that cultural projects have “taken the arrows, in terms of exploration and innovation,” it’s a prudent juncture for commercial developers to consider such a step, he said. “They’re a great source of inspiration for what’s possible,” he added. “If you’re striving for something atypical, whether it’s performance values or iconic geometry, but you still want it done on a regular schedule, design-assist is something you may want to consider.”
Ed Finkel is a freelance writer based in Evanston, Illinois, who covers real estate and a variety of other business-related topics.