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Mass Timber: A Carbon-Friendly Alternative Gaining Traction in the South

Written by: Jeff Peters, P.E.

Because of their high strength and dimensional stability, mass timber products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT) and nail-laminated timber (NLT) offer a carbon-friendly alternative to fossil fuel-intensive materials for many applications where wood hasn’t always been considered. This, combined with the aesthetic possibilities of exposed wood, is driving what many are calling a mass timber revolution across the U.S.—but are we really seeing evidence of that in the south?

Certainly, some parts of the country have been quicker to embrace mass timber than others. Portland continues to be a leader, most recently permitting a 12-story CLT office building called Framework. Designed by LEVER Architecture, Framework is part of a definite trend toward mass timber offices in the Pacific Northwest. In the Northeast, the University of Massachusetts recently opened the doors to its new Design Building by Leers Weinzapfel Associates, while Gray Organschi Architecture recently won a WoodWorks Wood Design Award for Common Ground High School in Connecticut. In the Midwest, architect Michael Green, famous for his use of wood as a carbon mitigation tool, recently saw his seven-story, LEED Gold-certified T3 Minneapolis—which combines NLT with glulam columns and beams—come to fruition.

There are signs that mass timber is also trending upward in the southern U.S. Hines, the developer of T3 Minneapolis, is breaking ground this fall on the seven-story T3 Atlanta. Designers are also proving keen to learn about available products and applications, as evidenced by their attendance at mass timber-focused educational events (hosted by WoodWorks and others). More tangible, perhaps, is the fact that a manufacturer recently announced that it will open a plant in Alabama to manufacture CLT from Southern pine. This will resolve what I think one of the barriers has been so far, which is the availability of a local product.