First-ever Mass Timber Building Competition in California to promote architectural innovation

In California, the Governor’s Forest Management Task Force and the Office of Planning and Research announced the winners of their first-ever competition designed to highlight a category of engineered wood products known as mass timber. As the need for forest, wildfire, climate, and housing solutions grows, California is moving to expand the use of these innovative wood products, which have the potential to sequester carbon, drive healthy forest management, and increase affordable housing in California.

Through the Mass Timber Building Competition, the State is awarding a total of $500,000 to four projects that demonstrate mass timber’s potential to help address multiple challenges while creating new rural economic opportunities. Mass timber encompasses a variety of large-format panelised wood products, such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail- or dowel-laminated timber, and mass plywood panels, that can be used both decoratively and structurally—even in tall buildings. Since engineering creates its strength and structural integrity, mass timber can be made from a variety of wood materials, including relatively small-diameter trees or trees that are dead or dying due to insects or disease. By creating more demand for these typically less-desirable byproducts of sustainable forest management, it could provide an incentive for landscape restoration efforts that reduce the risk of high-severity fire, such as forest thinning.

More use of local mass timber may reduce California’s catastrophic wildfires

“As California seeks to reduce catastrophic wildfires, mass timber offers a solution for materials that result from forest management efforts—a solution that can avoid air quality impacts while storing carbon in buildings expected to have life spans of 100 years or more,” said Kate Gordon, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research and the Governor’s senior advisor on climate.

Designers favour mass timber as a construction material for its strength, fire resistance, aesthetic, construction efficiency, reduced carbon footprint, and ability to work both alone and alongside other materials as a structural element. Mass timber is more commonly used for construction in Europe, but the last decade has brought an increase in mass timber as a structural element in North America; Canada, Washington, and Oregon are actively working to mainstream mass timber in the built environment.

California is the largest consumer of engineered wood products west of the Mississippi River, yet none is produced in the state. By showcasing opportunities for mass timber, State agencies seek to stimulate the demand for buildings constructed using mass timber and generate investor interest in potential in-state production capacity while advancing California’s climate change and green building objectives. In addition to creating economic opportunities in rural areas, locating manufacturing in California would reduce the cost of mass timber and make it a more cost-effective building material to increase affordable housing stock in urban areas where transit and amenities are within walking distance.

“Increased use of mass timber can benefit forest health and rural economic development, while reducing carbon emissions related to construction in California,” said Jennifer Cover, president and CEO of WoodWorks, which administered the competition. “The winning projects further highlight the design possibilities of timber and encourage wider adoption of its use throughout the state and across the country.”

A panel of expert judges selected the four winners (and two honourable mentions) that will receive support and recognition to build projects that demonstrate mass timber’s potential.

Winning Projects in the California Mass Timber Building Competition:

California College of the Arts Campus Unification Project – San Francisco


California College of the Arts Campus Unification Project – San Francisco / Studio Gang Architects; California College of the Arts, $200,000 Award (Image credit: Studio Gang Architects)

The Fifth – Los Angeles

The Fifth – Los Angeles / Michael Maltzan Architecture; Skid Row Housing Trust, $200,000 Award (Image credit: Michael Maltzan Architecture)

Orange County Sanitation District Headquarters – Fountain Valley

Orange County Sanitation District Headquarters – Fountain Valley / HDR; Orange County Sanitation District, $40,000 Award (Image credit: HDR)

Sunnydale Community Centre at the Hub – San Francisco

Two projects received honorable mentions in the competition:

The Stages at Northstar – North Lake Tahoe

Microsoft Silicon Valley Campus Expansion and Renovation


The awards will fund activities that include cost studies, permitting fees, and information exchange sessions with code officials.