The utilization of and advances in mass timber over the last decade have changed our perceptions of construction materials and building today. As mass timber buildings are rising in interest to the architectural design profession, the Building Industry as a whole is taking the initiative to further understand and develop new and more efficient solutions for designing with mass timber. Along with this continued innovation, the employment of mass timber in comparison to concrete and steel is often more sustainable. Building and construction account for 39% of the world’s CO2 Emissions (UNEP, 2019), and the use of timber instead of concrete and steel can reduce these emissions by 69% (Himes and Busby, 2020). Because of this, the utilization of mass timber is a path for reducing global warming potential.
While understanding the advantages and implications of the mass timber structure is critical for both sustainability and cost control, it is also important to understand that the structure can also inform or inhibit the way we as designers accommodate for efficient system integration. This study will investigate two major mass timber structural systems: all wood systems and wood gravity systems with concrete or steel lateral systems. Accommodation for system integration, which includes the building mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) as well as its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), plays a crucial role in how the building performs, whether for meeting an architectural aesthetic, or overall efficiency in design. Focusing on the two mass timber structural system types, research and analysis will be performed to determine the implications for the mass timber structure in order to achieve both an optimal structural system and efficient service integration in an educational building.
With mass timber products being a relatively new product here in the United States, there is no “typical” way to design mass timber structures or to integrate services. Every project offers its own standards and limitations, and these can implicate changes to the mass timber structure itself. This research seeks to explore a series of North American mass timber case studies to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of their structural, service, and integration solutions. Following this study, the lessons learned will be applied to an existing, recently completed university building with a steel and concrete structural system, by substituting its structure with a mass timber one. Using the existing structural system and new mass timber alternatives, comparisons will be made for both structural and system integration approaches to see if sustainability and efficiency goals could be achieved with a mass timber system. Through this applied research method, we can begin to understand how the mass timber structure can be both optimized and designed for better and more efficient system integration in educational buildings.