Moving Forward with the First Mass Timber Building in Virginia

The George Mason Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship and HITT Contracting partnered last October to host an on-site case study tour and lecture on mass timber construction featuring Co|Lab, HITT’s new 8,650 sq. ft. two-story research and testing facility that opened in June.  The building, located in Falls Church, is the first structural mass timber building in Virginia.

Commercial construction using engineered mass timber structural framing, instead of typical steel and concrete, has attracted growing interest among developers, architects, and builders.  Mass timber frame projects have been built previously in Canada and Northern Europe, but there are thus far very few examples of projects in the United States.

David Barber, a principal with multi-disciplinary engineering firm Arup and an expert in the fire safety of mass timber buildings, gave the lecture on trends in mass timber use. He provided an overview of the benefits of mass timber, including faster construction periods, less labor and staging space requirements, attractive look, and carbon sequestration characteristics.  He also touched on the limitations of the product in the United States such as a supplier capacity, shipping restrictions, and lack of experienced installers.  Barber also noted that projects being designed in the United States are using mass timber for its pleasing look and finishes to achieve premium rents and attract credit tenants.

Adrian Hitt, co-director of the HITT Co|Lab, then led a tour of the facility and a narrative on the design and construction of the building.  In addition to using mass timber, the building is designed to net-zero energy standards, with numerous energy-efficiency features and powered by a photovoltaic solar array doubling as a canopy for the rooftop outdoor space.

As evidence of the growing interest in mass timber from building owners, a new mass timber project was recently announced as part of the redevelopment of an office building in Washington DC.  Columbia Property Trust has filed plans to renovate a seven-story office building at 80 M Street SE and construct a two-story addition using mass timber frame.

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