8 Mass Timber

T3 Minneapolis, a mass timber building. Photographed by Payton Chung
T3 Minneapolis is a mass timber building. Photographed by Payton Chung


The architectural landscape has always been a testament to human innovation, reflecting our evolving knowledge, creativity, and regard for the environment. In recent years, one material has been making waves in the construction industry for its sustainable characteristics, structural strength, and aesthetic versatility: mass timber. This chapter, “Mass Timber in Modern Construction: Architectural Applications and Future Perspectives,” aims to delve into the specific applications of mass timber in contemporary architecture and construction, considering its advantages, challenges, and future prospects.

Mass timber is a term encompassing a variety of engineered wood products designed for high-strength, high-performance applications. Its roots lie in the need for more sustainable, carbon-neutral construction methods that can meet the demands of the modern world without sacrificing architectural design and aesthetic appeal. While the traditional use of timber in light wood frame construction and its properties and history are fascinating, this chapter focuses on mass timber’s more substantial, innovative realm.

We will examine the types of mass timber commonly used in architecture, including Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam), and Dowel-Laminated Timber (DLT). These engineered timber products are increasingly chosen for a wide variety of structures, from residential homes to commercial buildings and even high-rise structures. Their application in such diverse architectural styles and scales is a testament to the inherent adaptability of mass timber.

Following the exploration of the different types of mass timber and their uses, this chapter will delve into the advantages and challenges associated with their application in construction. We will discuss the sustainability benefits, structural and fire safety implications, as well as aesthetic appeal of mass timber structures. Simultaneously, we will consider the various technical and regulatory challenges and potential solutions.

Highlighting real-world examples, a series of case studies of noteworthy mass timber buildings from around the globe will be presented. These case studies serve as tangible evidence of the theoretical concepts explored throughout the chapter.

Looking towards the horizon, we will consider the future of mass timber in construction and architectural applications. From emerging trends and technologies to the market outlook, we will seek to provide a comprehensive future perspective on mass timber.

Embarking on this journey into the world of mass timber, we will unravel the exciting potentials of this sustainable material, which is steadily revolutionizing the construction industry and the architectural landscape as we know it.

Mass Timber Explained

The term ‘mass timber’ pertains to a category of framing styles characterized by the use of large solid wood panels for wall, floor, and roof construction, where the load-bearing structure is made of solid or engineered wood. As opposed to traditional timber construction that relies on smaller pieces of timber, such as 2x4s, mass timber utilizes large, often prefabricated, components. This results in buildings rivaling the strength and height of concrete and steel while providing the environmental benefits of renewable materials.

The rise of mass timber has been propelled by several innovative engineered wood products, which can be broadly categorized into three key types: Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam), and Dowel-Laminated Timber (DLT).

A piece of CLT. Photographed by Райн Александр Дмитриевич
A piece of CLT. Photographed by Райн Александр Дмитриевич

Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) is an engineered wood product that is rapidly gaining popularity in the construction industry. It consists of several layers of lumber boards stacked crosswise (at 90 degrees to each other) and bonded together under high pressure. This cross-lamination process enhances the dimensional stability, load-bearing capacity, and rigidity of the CLT panels, making them ideal for a wide range of applications, from floors and walls to roofs.

Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam) is another crucial type of mass timber. It is created by bonding together individual layers of timber under pressure, with the grain of all layers running parallel to the length. This manufacturing method yields a highly versatile material that can be produced in a wide range of shapes and sizes, opening up new creative possibilities in architectural design. With its high strength-to-weight ratio, Glulam is often used for beams, columns, and arches in both residential and commercial buildings.

Dowel-Laminated Timber (DLT) is a relatively newer form of mass timber comprising softwood lumber boards friction-fit and hardwood dowels. Unlike CLT and Glulam, DLT does not use glue for bonding, which makes it a more environmentally friendly choice. DLT panels are typically used for floor and roof systems, where their precise manufacturing process ensures high-quality, beautiful exposed wood surfaces.

While varying in their fabrication process and specific applications, these types of mass timber share the benefits of engineered wood: they are strong, versatile, and suitable for large-scale construction projects. However, their most significant advantage lies in their potential to create a more sustainable construction industry. Mass timber offers a path to more sustainable, climate-conscious architecture by utilizing wood- a renewable resource that sequesters carbon instead of more energy-intensive materials like steel and concrete.

Understanding the intricacies of these mass timber types allows for their proper application and further innovation in the field. As we navigate the architectural potentials of mass timber, we must also consider the advantages, challenges, and future perspectives associated with this cutting-edge material.

Architectural Applications of Mass Timber

Residential Buildings

In the realm of residential buildings, mass timber has revolutionized architectural design, proving itself to be a versatile material capable of catering to diverse aesthetic tastes and functional requirements. From single-family homes to multi-story apartment complexes, mass timber’s appeal spans across different scales and styles of living spaces.

With the use of Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), entire walls, floors, and roofs can be prefabricated, enabling faster construction times, fewer errors on site, and reduced waste. The large, solid panels lend themselves to a minimalist, contemporary aesthetic, with exposed timber surfaces adding warmth and a natural element to interiors.

For load-bearing structures, Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam) beams, and columns provide the necessary structural integrity while enhancing the visual appeal. In more intricate design scenarios, the shaping versatility of Glulam allows for the realization of unique architectural forms, such as curved beams or complex roof structures.

Dowel-Laminated Timber (DLT) finds its use predominantly in floor and roof systems, adding to the visual richness of the space with its beautiful exposed wood surfaces. As a glue-free option, DLT also contributes to healthier indoor air quality, an increasingly significant factor in residential design.

Commercial and Public Buildings

The use of mass timber extends well beyond residential applications and into the commercial and public sectors. Here, the large-scale potentials of mass timber come to the forefront.

In office buildings, the use of mass timber can contribute to a more pleasant and productive working environment. Studies have suggested that exposed wood interiors can lower stress levels and increase productivity. This biophilic design approach, combined with the structural capabilities of mass timber, has led to an increasing number of timber-framed offices.

Mass timber’s architectural potential shines in the design of public buildings such as schools, libraries, and community centers. The material’s flexibility enables creative, non-standard forms, allowing architects to design inspiring spaces that serve their communities. For example, Glulam’s ability to be shaped into complex geometries can create dramatic, soaring roofs for public halls or libraries, while CLT’s strength and stability can accommodate large, open spaces necessary in educational institutions.

In retail architecture, mass timber’s aesthetic appeal comes to the fore. Wood’s warm, natural qualities can enhance the shopping experience, inviting customers into a comfortable and engaging environment.

Moreover, for all these types of buildings, the sustainability aspect of mass timber aligns with a growing societal push for greener, more responsible architecture. Thus, mass timber is a powerful tool in creating future-oriented commercial and public spaces.

Architectural Applications of Mass Timber

High-Rise and Large-Scale Structures

Mass timber has been a game-changer in designing and constructing high-rise and large-scale structures. Historically, such projects have predominantly been the domain of steel and concrete due to their strength and durability. However, with the advent of engineered wood products like Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) and Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam), it is now possible to build taller and larger structures with wood.

Due to its dimensional stability and high load-bearing capacity, CLT can be used for the primary structural system in high-rise buildings. The Brock Commons Tallwood House at the University of British Columbia, an 18-story student residence, is a prime example of such an application.

The use of mass timber in large-scale structures also extends to industrial buildings, warehouses, and convention centers. These buildings require large spans and open spaces, which can be achieved using Glulam beams and columns due to their high strength-to-weight ratio.

Special Applications: Bridges, Sports Facilities, etc.

Beyond buildings, mass timber has found unique applications in structures such as bridges and sports facilities. Glulam is particularly suited for bridge construction because it can be molded into a wide range of shapes, its durability, and its resistance to corrosive elements. The durability of Glulam, along with its high strength-to-weight ratio, also makes it a perfect fit for large-span structures such as indoor sports arenas and swimming pools.

Mass timber’s thermal properties also provide benefits for sports facilities. For example, Glulam’s low thermal conductivity in indoor ice rinks helps maintain cooler temperatures, making it a practical and energy-efficient choice.

By capitalizing on the benefits of mass timber, architects and engineers are pushing the boundaries of what is achievable with wood, creating structures that are functional, beautiful, sustainable, and in tune with the natural world. These applications underscore the significant role mass timber can play in the future of construction.

Advantages of Using Mass Timber in Construction

Sustainability and Environmental Benefits

Mass timber presents a compelling alternative to traditional building materials in an era increasingly conscious of environmental impacts. Timber is a renewable resource, and its growth actively contributes to carbon sequestration, reducing the overall carbon footprint of a structure.

Mass timber requires less energy during production than steel or concrete, reducing associated CO2 emissions. Moreover, the mass timber components can often be reused or recycled at the end of a building’s life cycle, furthering the material’s sustainability profile.

The use of mass timber can also contribute to green building certifications like LEED and the Living Building Challenge, as they often award points for renewable materials and carbon sequestration.

Structural and Fire Safety Benefits

Mass timber products are engineered to deliver high strength, durability, and resilience. Their strength-to-weight ratio surpasses that of steel and concrete, making mass timber an excellent choice for structural applications in diverse types of buildings. Furthermore, their dimensional stability helps to minimize shrinkage and warping, leading to better overall performance and longevity of the structure.

While it might seem counterintuitive, mass timber performs surprisingly well in terms of fire safety. When exposed to fire, the outer layer of mass timber chars. creating a natural, insulating barrier that protects the inner core. This charring process slows the rate of burning and can help maintain the structural integrity of the component for a longer time, providing valuable time for occupants to evacuate and for firefighters to control the blaze.

Aesthetic and Design Flexibility

Mass timber provides architects with a wealth of aesthetic and design possibilities. The natural warmth and texture of the wood can contribute to creating inviting and comfortable spaces, an aspect particularly appreciated in residential, commercial, and public buildings.

The versatility of mass timber products like CLT and Glulam allows for a variety of architectural forms and expressions. With Glulam, architects can create curved, arched, or otherwise non-standard shapes, opening up creative design opportunities.

Mass timber also works well in combination with other materials, such as glass and steel, enabling architects to create a broad spectrum of styles, from traditional to contemporary.

Moreover, the prefabrication potential of mass timber components can lead to more precise, high-quality construction with reduced site waste and shorter construction times. This opens up new possibilities for innovative design and construction methodologies, such as modular or offsite construction.

In conclusion, the advantages of mass timber – its environmental benefits, structural performance, fire safety, and design flexibility – present a compelling case for its increased use in construction. By embracing this innovative material, the construction industry can address many current challenges, including environmental sustainability, building safety, and architectural quality. However, like any material, mass timber is not without its challenges, which we will explore in the following section.

Technical Difficulties and Solutions

Despite its numerous advantages, the use of mass timber does present some technical challenges. Two such challenges that are often encountered are joint design and acoustics.

imageJoint Design

Designing joints for mass timber structures can be complex due to the need to accommodate the unique characteristics of wood, such as differential shrinkage and swelling based on moisture content. In high-rise buildings, this becomes even more critical to ensure the stability of the structure.

Advancements in connection systems, including proprietary metal connectors and new types of fasteners, are making this challenge less daunting. Furthermore, innovative joint designs that employ principles of traditional woodworking, such as post-and-beam and dowel-laminated connections, are being adapted to modern applications.


Managing acoustics is another technical difficulty in mass timber construction, particularly in multi-story buildings. Wood, being a relatively good transmitter of sound, can potentially lead to issues with sound transfer between floors or rooms.

Solutions to this issue involve a combination of careful design and the use of appropriate materials. Adding layers of sound-absorbing materials, such as insulation or gypsum board, and incorporating a design with sufficient separation or decoupling between different parts of the structure can significantly reduce sound transmission.

Despite these technical challenges, the continued development of mass timber technology and the increasing knowledge and expertise within the industry are steadily providing solutions. With ongoing research and innovative design practices, these hurdles are being overcome, further expanding the potential applications of mass timber in construction.

Challenges and Solutions in Mass Timber Construction

Regulatory Challenges and Advances

While mass timber construction has seen significant advancements in recent years, regulatory hurdles often pose challenges to its wider adoption. Historically, building codes have been conservative towards the use of timber in large and tall buildings due to concerns about fire safety and structural performance. Many jurisdictions, especially in the United States, have limited the height of wood-framed buildings, often to a maximum of six stories.

However, with a growing understanding of mass timber’s performance characteristics and advances in fire engineering, these regulations are beginning to shift. Rigorous fire safety tests have demonstrated that mass timber, particularly Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), can perform as well as, if not better than, steel and concrete in fire conditions.

In response to these findings and industry advocacy, updates to building codes have started to reflect a more positive stance towards mass timber. For instance, the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) in the United States includes provisions for mass timber buildings up to 18 stories, a significant advance from previous versions. Similar updates are taking place in other jurisdictions worldwide.

These changes in the regulatory landscape have helped pave the way for the increased use of mass timber in a wider range of buildings, including high-rises and large-scale structures. Nevertheless, continuous efforts to educate policymakers, code officials, and the public about the benefits and safety of mass timber are crucial for further advancing and adopting this promising building technology.

Economic Considerations

Economic factors play a crucial role in the adoption of mass timber in construction. These considerations are multi-faceted, involving both the upfront costs of the materials and the longer-term benefits that can accrue from their use.

On the one hand, mass timber products like Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) or Glue Laminated Timber (Glulam) can be more expensive upfront than traditional construction materials like steel or concrete. However, it’s important to recognize that focusing solely on material costs can present an incomplete picture of the overall economics of a project.

Several factors can offset the higher initial costs of mass timber. For one, the construction process can be faster with mass timber, especially when components are prefabricated off-site. This speed can reduce labor costs and allow buildings to be occupied sooner, providing a quicker return on investment.

Additionally, the potential for lower operating costs should be considered. For instance, wood’s natural insulating properties can lead to energy savings over the life of a building. Furthermore, mass timber buildings can attract premium rents or sales prices in some markets due to their aesthetic appeal and sustainability credentials.

Moreover, as demand grows and more producers enter the market, mass timber costs are likely to decrease due to economies of scale. Also, policy incentives for green building practices could help bridge the cost gap.

In conclusion, while mass timber may entail higher upfront costs, its economic viability becomes clear when considering the full life cycle of a building, faster construction times, and potential operational savings.

Mass Timber Case Studies

Case Study 1: The Kind Project – A Mass Timber Innovation in Affordable Housing

The Kind Project marks a significant milestone in California’s housing sector, introducing one of the state’s first mass timber residential buildings. The development comprises two three-story buildings, housing 148 compact apartments in the heart of the Washington neighborhood, with easy access to local attractions like The Ziggurat, Sutter Health Park, and Tower Bridge. Residents can enjoy shared amenities, including a fitness center and courtyard spaces.

Holmes Structural Engineering delivered a structurally sound, aesthetically pleasing, and cost-effective design per the developer’s vision. The final design showcased exposed Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) elements for floors, mezzanine levels, and roofs, augmented by light-frame wood shear walls.

Incorporating CLT boosted ceiling heights, eliminating the requirement for additional joists and significantly streamlined the construction process. Impressively, the structural framing of the project, from foundation to roof, was completed within a mere four months.

The developer desired a straightforward, replicable design for future projects. In response, Holmes delivered a design maintaining consistent unit size and material use, irrespective of potential changes in building footprints. These wooden structures’ efficient, symmetrical layout ensures seamless adaptability to varied situations, dramatically reducing RFIs and the necessity for on-site alterations. The valuable insights gained from this project promise to fast-track construction at the upcoming Kind Project site in downtown.

In conclusion, The Kind Project embodies the potential of mass timber in affordable housing, offering valuable lessons for future developments.

Case Study 2: 1 De Haro – Pioneering Mass Timber Construction in San Francisco

1 De Haro stands as a testament to the innovative application of mass timber in urban construction, marking several firsts in San Francisco and California. This noteworthy project is the first in San Francisco to employ Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) in its construction and the inaugural multi-story mass timber building in California.

Located at the intersection of San Francisco’s Design District and Potrero Hill, 1 De Haro harmoniously blends with its environment. Yet, it’s distinct in its innovative construction methodology, transforming the city’s architectural landscape.

The 60,000-square-foot building features four stories of commercial office space, primarily occupied by creative and tech-oriented firms. Its design is characterized by open floor plans, abundant natural light, and visible CLT elements, promoting a sense of well-being and inspiring creativity among its occupants.

1 De Haro’s design not only prioritizes aesthetic appeal and functionality, but it also champions sustainability. The building’s CLT structure, sourced from sustainably managed forests, significantly reduces its carbon footprint compared to traditional steel or concrete structures. In addition, the use of prefabricated mass timber panels enabled faster and quieter construction, minimizing disruption to the surrounding neighborhood.

The success of 1 De Haro in San Francisco highlights the potential of mass timber as a sustainable and efficient solution for urban construction. It serves as a model for future projects in California and beyond, paving the way for mass timber’s broader acceptance and implementation in the construction industry.

Mjøstårnet at its opening in March 2019. By Nina Rundsveen
Mjøstårnet at its opening in March 2019. By Nina Rundsveen

Case Study 3: Mjøstårnet – A Testament to Mass Timber’s Sky-High Potential

Mjøstårnet, an 18-story mixed-use building nestled in Brumunddal, Norway, symbolizes the immense potential of mass timber construction. Completed in March 2019, the structure has been recognized as the world’s tallest wooden building, standing proudly at 85.4 meters.

Designed by Voll Arkitekter, Mjøstårnet is a stunning embodiment of modern architecture and sustainable design. This vertical marvel comprises a mix of residential units, hotel accommodations, offices, and a restaurant; all encased within an impressive, carbon-neutral framework.

The primary construction material for the Mjøstårnet is Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT), supplemented by Glulam beams for additional strength. A testament to the structural robustness of these materials, the building withstands the forces of nature, including high winds, proving that mass timber can deliver on both aesthetic appeal and engineering requirements.

The Mjøstårnet is a visual spectacle and a showcase of sustainable construction practices. Its CLT and Glulam components are derived from sustainably managed local forests, reducing the structure’s overall carbon footprint significantly when compared to similar steel or concrete buildings. The use of local timber also contributed to local economic development, reinforcing the project’s sustainable credentials.

Mjøstårnet, in essence, is a beacon of what’s possible with mass timber. It paves the way for the broader adoption of wood in high-rise buildings worldwide, shattering previous perceptions of limitations and challenging traditional norms in the construction industry.

Future Perspectives for Mass Timber in Construction

The future of construction looks promising with mass timber poised to play an integral part. Advancements in technology, market shifts, and an increased focus on sustainability are all contributing to the growing potential of mass timber in the construction sector.

Emerging Trends and Technologies

Hybrid structures combining mass timber with traditional materials such as steel and concrete are becoming increasingly popular. These hybrid models allow both materials’ benefits to be harnessed, improving overall structural performance while enhancing aesthetic appeal and sustainability.

Another exciting development is the integration of mass timber with advanced manufacturing technologies like 3D printing. This could revolutionize the design and construction processes, providing architects with greater flexibility in creating complex geometries and personalized design elements. These technologies could also further enhance the efficiency of construction by allowing precise off-site fabrication of components, reducing waste and on-site construction time.

Market Outlook and Potential Growth Areas

As society becomes more conscious of the environmental impact of construction, the demand for sustainable materials like mass timber is expected to grow significantly. Coupled with regulatory changes that are increasingly supportive of mass timber, the market outlook appears optimistic.

Potential growth areas for mass timber include high-rise and large-scale construction, where the advantages of mass timber in terms of weight, construction speed, and sustainability can be leveraged. Additionally, mass timber could find expanded use in sectors like affordable housing, where its efficiency and cost-effectiveness can address pressing housing needs.

Emerging economies could represent a significant growth area for mass timber, as these countries grapple with rapid urbanization and the need for sustainable development. However, this will depend on factors such as local availability of resources, regulations, and awareness about the benefits of mass timber.

In conclusion, the future of mass timber in construction is promising, driven by evolving trends, technological innovations, and shifting market dynamics. As we continue to explore the potential of this sustainable material, mass timber is likely to play an increasingly central role in shaping the built environment of the future.


Throughout this chapter, we’ve delved into the transformative potential of mass timber in construction and architectural applications. From its definition and key types to its manifold applications in diverse architectural contexts, mass timber is reshaping how we envision and construct our built environments.

Through the lens of case studies such as The Kind Project, 1 De Haro, and the towering Mjøstårnet, we’ve witnessed the material’s practical applications, aesthetic possibilities, and sustainability credentials. Moreover, our exploration of the economic considerations, technical challenges, and regulatory landscape surrounding mass timber provided further context for understanding its evolving role in the industry.

Looking ahead, mass timber stands at the forefront of a more sustainable future for construction. As emerging technologies and market trends continue to evolve, mass timber is poised to redefine architectural design and construction methodologies, marking a significant shift towards a more resilient, sustainable, and aesthetically pleasing built environment. This revolution in construction is only the beginning, and we eagerly anticipate the innovative developments that lie ahead.


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