When Seattle architect Susan Jones built her wonderful little house out of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) she had to order it from Canada; there was not a single architectural CLT plant in the entire United States This seemed so strange, in a country that prides itself on innovation and ingenuity and has such a huge forestry industry and so much wood. In the UK they were building high-rises and in Italy, thousands of earthquake proof CLT houses, but not in America.
It's a shame, because CLT really is a dream material; as I have noted before, it's made from wood, a renewable resource, it sequesters carbon, it is strong enough to replace wood and concrete in higher buildings, and right now, it helps use up some of the billions of board-feet of mountain pine-beetle infested wood that will rot if we don't cut it and use it fast.
Now, D.R. Johnson, a firm in Riddle, Oregon, has started making CLT out of local douglas fir, on an American-made USNR press. It's a dinky machine by international standards, capable of panels of 10 feet by only 24 feet (the European machines go up to sixty feet) but it is certainly a start; according to Scott Gibson at Green Building Advisor, they plan to extend the press next year.
They are also installing a big Hundegger 5 axis CNC machine to fabricate the panels; this is what happened when Susan Jones introduced her CLT panel to a CNC machine. They are already contracted to make nearly half a million square feet of CLT. This is all great news for designers who want to work with the stuff, and for the industry in Oregon; as noted in their press release,
Many industry leaders and Oregon policymakers view the development of CLT as serving two important objectives: advancing sustainable building design and promoting rural economic development. The product creates a new market for struggling Oregon sawmills and a new technology for developers who are eager to further reduce carbon emissions tied to buildings. Until now, however, the U.S. market has been slow to materialize. “The market for CLT is growing,” said [President Valerie] Johnson. “We are either under contract or in design conversations with over a dozen projects along the West Coast. Demand is there, and we expect other manufacturers may enter the market soon.”
More info at D.R. Johnson's new OregonCLT website.
UPDATE: It is not the first company in America to make CLT, Smartlam in Montana has been turning out a million board-feet a month. I previously changed the post to acknowledge this but have learned that Smartlam's panels are not yet approved for architectural use, so DR Johnson appears to deserve that title.
The use of CLT is increasing, and building costs are changing to permit taller wood buildings even as the concrete industry fights them tooth and nail. An eight storey CLT apartment building designed by PATH Architecture is now being proposed; no word on where its CLT is coming from. More at Next Portland.
Meanwhile, to promote CLT in the northwest, Oregon BEST is launching a design competition....
....that aims to support an innovative, viable building project that will serve as a true demonstration for the aesthetically beautiful and structurally-sound use of cross laminated timber. The selected project(s) will be awarded a cash prize to help offset design and/or project costs associated with material performance modeling and/or testing, code compliance documentation and preparation of that documentation for use by other teams, and post-occupancy monitoring of material performance in the built project.
This might well encourage designers and builders to try using the stuff.