Coming Soon: Plyscrapers Made From Mass Plywood Panels

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©. Freres/ Lever Architecture

Freres Lumber gets a new form of mass timber approved and patented.

There are many ways to glue bits of wood together. Cross-Laminated Timber is the lumber du jour, and is often described as "plywood on steroids", but it isn't plywood; it's made from dimension lumber like 2x6s laminated together. Plywood has been made in the USA since the 1880s and Freres Lumber of Oregon has been making the stuff since 1959. It's well-established technology that uses wood very efficiently, peeling it off logs as small as 5 inches in diameter.

The Frere Fréres

© The Frere FréresPlywood is usually sold in sheets of 4' by 8' around an inch thick, but back in 2016 Freres forgot to turn the machine off and is now cranking out Mass Plywood Panels (MPP), sheets that are up to 12' by 48' by 2 feet thick. From the original release:

We believe veneer is the most appropriate raw material for Mass Timber Panels in the Pacific Northwest. Our veneer plants can efficiently and responsibly use second and third growth timber with a minimum of a 5-inch block diameter to produce engineered panels. Natural defects within the log are engineered out of the raw material prior to constructing the mass panel by virtue of the traditional plywood laminating process.

closeup of wood

© Lauren Rennan/ Freres Lumber

They say that it uses 20 percent less wood than CLT. After three years of testing and patenting, it now approved for use in multi-storey buildings up to 18 floors high. It has been fire tested and load tested.

Wood, concrete and steel behave differently in fires; concrete deteriorates, steel becomes ductile and bends, and wood chars. Tests have shown that sometimes mass timber will self-extinguish. The bottom line is, MPP has been tested and passed the life safety fire performance requirements for buildings that require a 2-hour fire rating for the floor assembly.
MPP Lounge

© Freres/ Lever Architecture

Cross-laminated timber was developed in Austria in the 1990s as a way of using up lower quality dimensioned lumber. Plywood has different characteristics and is probably made with less waste and even greater consistency. I suspect that Lever Architecture could not have designed this lounge out of CLT. I suspect that we are going to be seeing a lot of this MPP, and that it is going to give CLT a run for its money.