The Economist and Forbes: Let’s build with wood

Both Forbes and The Economist recently touted the opportunities in building with wood, advocating the new way to build is with mass timber products. The Economist article “Top of the trees” opens with a description of a pagoda in Japan, a building that has withstood natural elements such as storms and earthquakes for over 1,400 years. This remains the inspiration for many of today’s modern wood buildings. How can we build with wood in a way that will withstand rain, fire, and earthquakes? And will it be safe?

(Design for the 21-story high Haut building in Amsterdam. Photo credit: Team V Architectuur)

The answer is to build with mass timber, a term which applies to wood products that are engineered to be strong, durable, fire-resistant, and safe. These engineered wood products have been used for decades and research continues to be done on ways to improve them. The architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill along with Oregon State University recently showed how strong engineered wood can be. The researchers used cross-laminated timber (CLT) with a thin layer of reinforced concrete spread across the surface in a hybrid form known as concrete-jointed timber. Pressure was applied to the CLT panel to test its weight capacity. The floor began to crack once 8 times the designed load was applied. (Read more about this experiment in Testing Mass Timber)

In Forbes’ Tree Houses: Is Wood Really The Future Of Skyscrapers?, Laurie Winkless dives further into the future of mass timber. Winkless describes the potential shift of building with wood instead of steel and concrete and what that means for the environment. The production process for steel and concrete are energy-intensive and highly-polluting, putting wood above them in terms of environmentally friendly materials. But it is quickly pointed out that in order to be truly ecofriendly, this wood should be sourced from regulated, certified forests that are managed carefully with a larger number of new trees growing than harvested. (Read more about the connection between sustainable forestry and building with wood on New England Forestry Foundation’s blog Into the Woods)

(The newly built Brock Common at University of British Columbia. Photo credit: Unknown)

So what does this mean for the future of tall buildings? The number of mass timber buildings around the world is growing, as is the height. Brock Commons, the 18 story tall dormitory at University of British Columbia recently reached a milestone in construction. It currently holds the title of tallest wood building in the world, but will soon be beat out by the 21-story HAUT in Amsterdam. One thing is sure: mass timber buildings are here to stay.


NEFF to investigate new uses for New England wood products

LITTLETON, May 18, 2016- The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service has awarded a Wood Innovations Grant to New England Forestry Foundation (NEFF) in Littleton, MA to analyze the potential for manufacturing engineered wood products in New England. The study will set the stage for expanded local production of wood products that are being used to revolutionize construction around the world.

Wood construction can be an important strategy in mitigating climate change and could also reduce construction costs, all while revitalizing New England forests. A 2015 study by Yale University professor Chadwick Oliver and colleagues found that using more sustainably produced wood in construction could reduce global carbon emissions by up to 31 percent.

“Renewable products like wood from New England forests are crucial to a sustainable future for our region,” said Monty Lovejoy, a member of NEFF’s Board of Directors and chairman of its Build It With Wood committee.

NEFF will use the USDA funding to analyze demand for engineered wood products and the suitability of local wood for use in such products. The grant will also identify the potential return on investment associated with the development of a mill. This investment analysis would inform public and private initiatives aimed at fostering construction of such a mill, which could then serve to reduce the cost of wood construction in major Northeast markets such as Boston or New York, while simultaneously improving forest health in the region’s abundant woodlands.

Of the 42 Wood Innovations Grants issued, NEFF was the sole recipient in Massachusetts and one of only four in New England. Grants are awarded to projects focused on expanding markets for wood products and wood energy.

The analysis funded by the grant is part of NEFF’s Build It With Wood project. Build It With Wood aims to expand the use of wood building materials in long-lasting infrastructure and increase the use of renewable and sustainable wood products. “We see Build It With Wood as a crucial part of our region’s response to a diverse set of challenges— declining forest health, a need for more affordable housing, and the ever present challenge of climate change,” said NEFF Executive Director Bob Perschel. “This grant is a key step forward.”

Founded in 1944, NEFF pursues innovative programs to advance conservation and forestry throughout New England. Through private ownership and partnership with land owners, NEFF has conserved more than 1.1 million acres of forest, including one out of every three acres of forestland protected in New England since 1999. For more information, please call 978.952.6856 or visit

Hello, Portland! It’s time for the Mass Timber Conference

The time has come for the Mass Timber Conference, held for the first time in Portland, Oregon! NEFF staff member and wood building enthusiast Emily Kingston will be attending for all three days and live tweeting throughout the conference.

The conference kicks off with a special tour of Portland’s famous mass timber buildings. Over 100 conference attendees will be touring 4 well known timber buildings. The tour group will visit Framework, Albina Yard, Clay Creative, and The Radiator.

After the building tour, the conference will commence with a welcome reception. Wednesday and Thursday are devoted to speakers discussing a wide variety of topics related to mass timber and construction. The speakers represent many different fields including mass timber production, forestry, architecture, engineering, and building code officials. The list of speakers includes Vancouver architect Michael Green, who spoke at NEFF’s Climate Week event in September.

This conference is guaranteed to be three fantastic days of in-depth discussions and inspiring conversations. We’re looking forward to learning about mass timber buildings from people from around the world! Follow New England Forestry Foundation on Twitter (@NEForestry) as we live tweet the entire Mass Timber Conference!

Countdown begins for Mass Timber Conference

Only a few short weeks separate today until the Mass Timber Conference kicks off in Portland, Oregon!

The first annual Mass Timber Conference (short for “massive timber”) will be hosted by the Forest Business Network at the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront. A diversity of sectors is expected to be represented at the event including architects, engineers, city planners, construction companies, mass timber manufacturers, fire officials, state and federal agencies, code officials, environmental and forestry NGOs, and academia.

Participants will attend panels during the three day conference with topics such as U.S. Market Growth, Supply Chain Challenges and Opportunities, and International Market Lessons Learned.

Framework is one of several buildings on the Mass Timber Conference tour
(Interior of Framework, one of the buildings on the Mass Timber Building Tour. Photo credit: Works Partnership Architecture)

The focus of the conference is to “explore current opportunities and obstacles for cross-laminated timber, nail-laminated timber, glulam panels, laminated veneer lumber, and other mass timber construction in North America and how to execute projects today.”

While the conference has a North American focus, participants from around the world will share their experiences in the international movement. In addition to USA and Canada, attendees will be coming from Denmark, Australia, Germany, Austria, England, and New Zealand.

Keep an eye out for New England Forestry Foundation staff member Emily Kingston who will be attending the conference and the Mass Timber Building Tour!

Tour of UMass building construction site

Build It With Wood has been closely following the construction of University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Integrated Design Building. This week, we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the construction site. Watch the video below!

You can read more about the Integrated Design Building on UMass Amherst’s website or read our previous posts about the arrival of the first shipment of cross-laminated timber or the groundbreaking ceremony.

Climate Week 2015 event a success

On opening night of Climate Week New York City 2015, panelists at the “Sustainable Development Benefits of Building with Wood” event looked to our nation’s forests for innovative climate solutions. Organized by New England Forestry Foundation, Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, and Sustainability Practice Network, the panel considered how wood construction could play a revolutionary role in reducing the extent of future climate change.

The event took place in September as part of the seventh annual Climate Week which is organized by the international non-profit The Climate Group. The Climate Group aims to undertake climate change issues and global greenhouse gas emissions through solutions compatible with economic growth. Over 100 events encouraging climate change discussion, awareness, and action were hosted by community groups, universities, NGOs, and companies from around the world during Climate Week.

(From left to right: Frank Lowenstein, Patrick Holmes, Michael Deane, Michael Green, Dr. Chad Oliver, Bill Parsons. Not pictured: Roger Platt)

The panel consisted of six diverse and accomplished experts in architecture, green building engineering, and forest conservation. The panel included Michael Green (Michael Green Architecture), Patrick Holmes (USDA), Frank Lowenstein (New England Forestry Foundation), Dr. Chad Oliver (Yale University), Bill Parsons (WoodWorks), and Roger Platt (U.S. Green Building Council).  Michael Deane (Turner Construction Company) moderated the panel event.

The open-dialog discussion began with Vancouver-based architect Michael Green who is known for his designs of wooden skyscrapers. In his opening statement, Green began by showing a rendering of the 102-story tall Empire State Building made of steel cables surrounded by wood panels. Speaking passionately to the crowd, Green said, “We have to shift society’s perception of what’s possible because we haven’t seen a new way to build a skyscraper before this in the past 100 years. It’s tough to change the construction industry, but it’s happening.”

Michael Green presenting(Michael Green addressing the crowd about tall timber buildings. Photo credit: NEFF)

Proceeding Green was NEFF’s own Deputy Director Frank Lowenstein who highlighted the economic and environmental aspects of increased use of wood in buildings along with the benefits of active forest management. Lowenstein proposed a radical idea to maximize the carbon benefits of forests by harvesting them in a sustainable way, improve their health while doing so, and to store that wood carbon in long-lasting buildings as much as possible.

Dr. Chad Oliver, Director of Yale’s Global Institute of Sustainable Forestry, then continued the conversation on forest management. He discussed the carbon emission benefits of avoiding steel and concrete, along with how to protect the biodiversity of forest ecosystems.

Frank Lowenstein presenting(Frank Lowenstein presenting on sustainable forestry. Photo credit: NEFF)

Patrick Holmes, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary at the U.S.D.A., followed Oliver. He highlighted the recent announcement of the winners for the 2015 Tall Wood Building competition, a mixed-use building in Portland, Oregon and a residential condominium in New York City. Emphasizing the importance of a forest products market, Holmes argued that building with wood combats economic challenges through innovation.

National Director of WoodWorks, Bill Parsons, reviewed current building codes allowing for wood buildings in U.S. He mentioned that creating mid-rise wood buildings is well within code and that, “There are lots of applications that don’t require you to build the biggest building you can imagine.”

Roger Platt, President of the U.S. Green Building Council, concluded the panelist presentations with talk about LEED certifications and life-cycle analysis of building materials. He discussed issues with sourcing materials long distances away from the site and the significance of regulation during manufacturing.

After opening the floor for questions from the audience, the panel further discussed sustainable forestry, land protection, and energy efficiency of buildings.

Watch all of the presentations from the event on our video section!