By Lloyd Alter
February 11, 2016
The Wood Design Awards for 2016 have just been announced, and there is a lot to love and a lot to learn from them. Previously we showed the elaborate and lovely Nest We Grow by Kengo Kuma; Portland's Framework building by Works Partnership Architecture is not quite as exciting but in some ways more important as a prototype and precedent.
This is a working office building, constructed much like warehouse buildings have been constructed in the Northwest for 150 years, with a straightforward, wide open plan. In fact looking at the plan, there is absolutely nothing notable at all. That's what's so interesting about it; these buildings worked well for all kinds of functions, from warehouses then to trendy startups now.
The difference was that then they had lots of big timber to make columns and beams out of; now it's made of glue-laminated wood built up out of smaller second growth. But note in the photo how the floor sheathing is on a 45 degree angle; that's how it was done historically, so that when the final flooring was nailed on perpendicular to the beams below it all became a tight sandwich that acted as a membrane holding it all together. It's actually quite earthquake resistant, strong but light and flexible.
Another difference was that then it was covered in masonry, which was not so terrific in an earthquake. They didn't have sprinkler systems either, so they needed the more fire-resistant exterior. Now it is clad in lighter, more flexible cladding. More transparent too; the architects liken it to "a ship in a bottle."
The award description puts it in a similar fashion:
It is this combination of convention and innovation that contributes to its success. The concrete base is carved, rising up to hold the framework display. Eighty percent of the wood is left exposed, and connections were custom designed to accentuate the framing system. In addition to Douglas-fir glulam columns and beams, Framework includes several other mass timber products and dimension lumber framing and decking. This 24,447-sf project was completed for a construction cost of $2.95 million.
I suspect that in a year or two it will be difficult for a building like this to win a wood award; they will be ubiquitous. But for now, Works Partnership Architecture have set the precedent, and distilled it, the mix of old tech and planning with a new modern skin, to the essence.
Or as Leonard Cohen might say, a new skin for the old ceremony.