Architect introduces first mass timber high-rise in the United States

In October 16, 2017

Founder and Principal Architect of the Portland-based architectural firm, Lever Architecture, Thomas Robinson spoke to Auburn students and community members Wednesday evening on his involvement with, and the industry as a whole, using cross-laminated timber.

Robinson and Lever Architecture are on the forefront of the use cross-laminated timber, CLT, and just received a permit to build the first mass timber high-rise in the United States.

“We have people who are interested in our work coming from Europe and I’m actually going to be speaking in Germany at the end of this year,” Robinson said.

The new building, referred to as Framework, will be 12 stories tall in Portland, Oregon. The client of the building is a community development bank.“They wanted a building that related to their goals of economic justice and sustainability,” Robinson said.

The lower third of the building will be dedicated to the bank, the middle third will serve as creative office space and the upper third will be for affordable housing.

“We’re, in a way, building a very large Ikea cabinet,” Robinson said. “Think about Ikea cabinets, they’re incredibly engineered, to the millimeter, so this building is engineered to the eighth of an inch.”

Robinson went on to talk about the possible implications within his speech and the positive consequences that can result.

“You’re talking about jobs, you’re talking about connecting rural economic development to the explosive growth that we’re seeing in our urban centers,” Robinson said.

Robinson included the tremendous amount of testing the company must go through in order to be to gain a permit and actually feasibly do the build. “They wanted a building that related to their goals of economic justice and sustainability,” Robinson said.

“They’re not exciting, but extremely stressful,” Robinson said.

A question and answer session followed the lecture which brought about many architectual questions surrounding wood and its implementation in the future.

For those who expressed their worries, Robinson said “Yeah it’s a risk. It’s the same risk that you have on all wood buildings here. It’s not like all the wood homes are falling down. People know how to deal with that, it just requires that expertise.”

The highlight of the question and answer segment was a discussion that was sparked by a question on whether wood will overtake steel and other materials for building in the future. Robinson took an open-minded approach to this discussion.

“I don’t really see it as either or,” Robinson said. “You might have a steel building with concrete decks, you might have steel columns with wood decks, or you might have wood decks with concrete fill on the top. So, I think you’re going to see more hybrid types of constructions.”

Yusuf Celikbag, a postdoctoral student in forest products development center at Auburn, was excited to be able to attend the talk as his field of research is directly linked to the subject of the event.

“It’s awesome because they’re using the CLT so for us, at the forest products development center, it gives us more opportunity to produce more bio-based adhesive for this kind of structure,” Celikbag said.

Janaki Alavalapati, dean of the school of forestry and wildlife sciences, introduced Robinson and presented Robinson with an eagle as a token of gratitude at the conclusion of the speech.

The discussion was the second part of an all-day event in which the first half of the day included a conference and the announcement of the new interdisciplinary studies major. The undergraduate program; sustainable biomaterials and packaging, recently passed the Board of Trustees and is pending review by the state.

Brian Via, Regions professor of forest products in the school of forestry and wildlife, was the chair of the committee which organized the event.

He was excited with not only the content of the talk but also the turnout at the event. “There were 350 seats and it seemed like it was all full and there were even people standing,” Via said. “It was beyond my expectations. I was so happy.”

Via attributed the good turnout to the notoriety of Robinson. “So many people when I mention Thomas Robinson’s name, across many different disciplines, people know of him. So, it seems like he’s internationally known,” Via said.

Architect introduces first mass timber high-rise in the United States by By Stephen Lanzi | Campus Writer | 10/04/17 11:34pm.  Available from <> [Photo Source | The Auburn Plainsman ]