So why a Tall Wood Building Prize? U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explained at the ceremony:
The U.S. wood products industry is vitally important as it employs more than 547,000 people in manufacturing and forestry, with another 2.4 million jobs supported by U.S. private-forest owners. By embracing the benefits of wood as a sustainable building material, these demonstration projects have the ability to help change the face of our communities, mitigate climate change and support jobs in rural America.
Although a hundred years ago building taller buildings in wood was relatively common, particularly on the west coast, It fell out of favor as the big trees became scarce, and as building codes changed to promote noncombustible steel and concrete. The prize money is being used to catch up, for "the exploratory phase of their projects, including the research and development necessary to utilize engineered wood products in high-rise construction in the U.S". And while the steel, concrete and masonry people are apoplectic about this and keep running ads screaming about burning buildings, the heavy timber buildings like these are have been shown to be pretty safe. Or as they say on the prize website:
The distinction of ‘combustible verses non-combustible construction’ has restricted the development of mass timber technologies for the construction of taller structures. However, new technologies, products and systems are available today that weren’t available or as well understood in the past. Scientific research and testing over the past five years, as well as the construction of more than 17 tall mass timber buildings (seven stories or taller) around the world, has provided building officials, designers, contractors and consumers’ confidence that these buildings are safe and resilient.
East Coast winner: 475 West 18th
Designed by SHoP architects,
475 West 18th’s extensive use of wood structural elements and other wood products allows the team to set ambitious sustainability targets in the building’s design, construction, and operation. By combining aggressive load reduction with energy efficient systems, the project team anticipates reducing overall energy consumption by at least 50 percent relative to current energy codes. It will also target LEED Platinum certification, as well as pursue higher levels of sustainability not captured in the LEED system.
West coast winner: Framework
Designed by LEVER architecture, this is pushing the envelope a bit more than the east coast winner, being twelves stories in an earthquake zone. It's also more aggressive in its uses, including social housing, offices for B corporations and public amenities.
A key element of the building design led by Thomas Robinson, principal of LEVER Architecture, is to communicate at street level the project’s innovative use of wood and engineering technology in the development of a high rise structure, along with its relationship to the rural economy. Integrating lessons learned from tall timber structures in Canada and Europe, Robinson and his team are expected to incorporate new structural and architectural technologies that include an engineered wood core and lateral system for seismic integrity and CLT floor panels fabricated up to 50’ in length.
Congratulations to the winners, and to Tom Vilsack for supporting this. Read more about the competition here.