Mass timber going mainstream
04.12.2019

These exterior (above) and interior (below) renderings of Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside Development planned for Toronto, Canada’s waterfront are representative of the scale to which some of the world’s most forward-thinking brands are embracing mass timber. Images courtesy of Sidewalk Labs.

Along with more than 1,500 other people from 28 different countries, I spent most of the fourth week of March taking part in the 2019 International Mass Timber Conference, produced jointly by Forest Business Network and WoodWorks/Wood Products Council. For the fourth year in a row (since the event’s inception), it was held in Portland, which organizers referred to as “the center of intellectual capital for mass timber.”

As was the case every other time, the conference brought together most of the world’s leading advocates for and practitioners of mass timber construction. This time around, though, things were different. The mood in the convention center had evolved from, “Just think what we might be able to do,” to something more like, “Look what we’re doing and let us show you how we’re doing it.”

What makes me most optimistic about what’s to come is that mass timber has moved into the mainstream. No longer is it just a unique new way to build, experimented on by a few architects, contractors and developers. Some of the world’s most popular, thought-leading brands, including adidas, Sidewalk Labs, Microsoft and Google, have jumped all-in. These companies are not just major brands. They are cultural paradigm-changers. And they all are embracing mass timber in a big way – for the most important of reasons. They recognize that climate change is the biggest challenge we face as humans, and they see the tremendous potential mass timber offers as a significant contributor to solving the climate change challenge.

Sidewalk Labs rendering

Here’s a summary of what’s in store:

- Microsoft: Multiple mass timber structures make up the renovations to Microsoft’s 643,000-square-foot, 32-acre campus in Mountain Park, Calif. Their primary motivator for using mass timber is sustainability.

- Google: They’re embracing mass timber and other sustainable technologies in order to use their purchasing power and influence to drive scalable sustainability solutions.

- Sidewalk Labs: A sister company to Google, under the Alphabet umbrella, Sidewalk Labs seeks to use mass timber throughout an 800-acre mixed-use community it is developing in Toronto, Canada. Known as Quayside, the development seeks to “combine forward thinking urban design and cutting edge technology to radically improve urban life.”

- adidas: With its North American headquarters right here in Portland, adidas has chosen mass timber for two buildings totaling 467,000 square feet on its campus in North Portland. Corporate Real Estate Director David Remos cited sustainability and employee well-being as primary drivers behind choosing mass timber.  

 

“We want to impact things that are scalable. Scalable sustainability.”

– Michelle Kaufman, head of research and development for the built environment, Google

 

All of these large companies are putting their money, and their social leadership, into something they truly believe can be a world-changer: mass timber.

The 2020 International Mass Timber Conference will be held in Portland again next year, March 24-27. Can’t wait to see what happens then.

Timm Locke

Director of Forest Products

 

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