Designing and building with mass timber continues to be a promising path for Skanska’s teams from Washington to New Jersey, and everywhere in between, to lean into our shared commitment of shaping our future responsibly.
Our teams utilize mass timber in school, aviation, commercial and multifamily building projects across the country, because this renewable, carbon-sequestering material can help create a brighter future for people and the built environment.
Here are four benefits to using mass timber that go beyond sustainability.
1. Less weight and materials bring more project efficiencies
Mass timber projects have lighter foundations than concrete or steel structures. This means less excavation and soil removal, smaller seismic loads and the use of less equipment during construction.
Traditional concrete and steel structures typically require five times as many trucks to be used in the foundation stage. With fewer truckloads and less concrete required, mass timber can save costs up front. Additionally, lighter foundations have a sustainability benefit: less concrete can result in a smaller carbon footprint.
For Georgia Tech and our project team working on the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design choosing mass timber was a game changer. Leveraging a mix of building materials, including nail-laminated timber decking and glulam beams and columns, the building took less than two years to be constructed following planning and design—a testament to the efficiencies made possible by mass timber.
2. Faster construction timelines increase speed to market
The scheduling efficiencies that accompany mass timber projects only add to the material’s appeal.
The design and detail of wood pieces for mass timber-forward projects of all types can be prefabricated and engineered offsite, speeding up project timelines. Additionally, manufacturing offsite brings structure and added control to a critical stage of the project with key project components coming together in a controlled factory environment.
Timber materials need only be connected to each other on site once they arrive, which often leads to faster project delivery.
In Nashville, our team recently completed The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s new headquarters, a 99 percent mass timber building. In doing so, the team saw firsthand how incorporating cross-laminated timber (CLT) and utilizing prefabrication techniques like panel max, throughout the site sped up installation.
Eliminating field cutting also allows those on site to focus on mechanical, electrical, and plumbing work.
3. Biophilic design reduces stress and enhances productivity
Mass timber-based structures directly align with the concept of biophilia, the idea that humans tend to seek connections with nature. In the spheres of education, business and beyond, the physical and mental benefits made possible by mass timber are reason enough to continue leveraging the material.
The finished, yet exposed, nature of mass timber projects provides a stress-reducing environment for occupants, while promoting more focused work and productivity.
Being in wood-forward spaces benefits people physically too. A study by University of Oregon’s Kevin Den Wymelenberg on the “visual effects of wood on thermal perception of interior environments,” concluded that using wood materials throughout a structure improved thermal comfort.
Our 138,000 square-foot Lakeridge Middle School replacement project in Lake Oswego, Oregon, used seven specialty timber products to create a space where students can thrive academically, mentally and physically. Mahlum Architects noted that the design intention was to evoke feelings of being in nature to reduce stress, anxiety, and aggressive behavior, hence the incorporation of exposed wood beams, wood ceilings, and White Oak tree trunks throughout.
In our progressive design-build expansion of the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Youth in Vancouver, Washington, mass timber is being used to improve learning outcomes and reduce stress.
In the corporate sector, creating spaces that satisfy occupants’ desires for comfort can lead to a healthier and happier workforce in the long term, increasing productivity, decreasing costly turnover and potentially reducing healthcare costs.
A University of Oregon study concluded that “10 percent of employee absences could be attributed to poor architectural design and a lack of connection to nature,” and that “integrating biophilic elements into the work environment could generate savings of close to $2000 per employee per year.”
Employee retention, and even tenant duration, can increase when mass timber is in the picture. Additionally, the upfront cost of designing with nature in mind can be a wise business investment with lasting return.
A ThinkWood study revealed that call center workers with a view of the natural environment handled six to seven percent more calls than those who did not have a view.
The upfront cost to give each employee an outdoor view amounted to $1000 per employee. The return on investment? Increased productivity amounting to $2900 in increased revenue per employee per year.
The numbers speak for themselves—natural environments draw people in and make them want to stay.
4. Mass timber’s mass appeal points to economic growth, bolstering communities
WoodWorks’ Innovation Network map tracks mass timber projects underway and complete across the country. As of June 2023, 1,860 multi-family, commercial or institutional mass timber projects were in progress or built.
Additionally, the number of Skanska projects actively incorporating mass timber continues to grow nationwide in light of the material’s many benefits. Recently, our team broke ground on Cincinnati’s first cross laminated timber project, Cincinnati Public Radio’s new headquarters, a $32 million, 35,000-square-foot building.
The plethora of mass timber work already in motion points to a bright future, especially as economic recovery is top of mind for clients and communities in a post-Covid world.
Mass timber—with its ability to bring new jobs, more work and creative partnerships between clients and communities building across the U.S.—is a way for communities to build back better.
For cities across the U.S., mass timber work can bring new life to communities through jobs and opportunities for individuals who have transferable skills to enter the industry.
Sustainability professionals in all spheres of work can find a home for their skills in visionary mass timber projects—jumping into an industry they might have otherwise overlooked.
Mass timber is also a chance to creatively invest in the communities where we build. In the case of our Living Building Challenge-certified Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech, we partnered with Georgia Works, a nonprofit helping chronically homeless men become self-sufficient, and provided on-the-job training to six men who worked side-by-side with our crew to construct the floor decking from salvaged wood.
As clients, architects, and builders prioritize decarbonization efforts, mass timber stands as a promising material option to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. Additionally, the benefits of mass timber extend beyond those that protect the environment. The material can help reinvigorate communities through new or expanded career opportunities, as well as provide healthier spaces for living and working, ultimately resulting in benefits for clients, customers, students and tenants.
Be inspired to design and build with mass timber by visiting Skanska’s mass timber site here.