Leading the charge in the southeast region of North America on innovative wood research and design is Mississipi State University’s (MSU) School of Architecture.
The Mississippi Forestry Foundation and other industry partners pitched in a $12,000 match for the Community Partnerships grant awarded by Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. (SFI), an internationally recognised nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible forest management.
A portion of the grant was awarded for a design studio centered on wood technologies scheduled for this fall and tailored for fourth-year undergraduate students. The studio will focus on recent innovations in wood products and construction methods.
Called TIMB(R): Timber Innovations for Mississippi Buildings Reimagined, the studio will culminate with a design competition in which students will craft plans for a mid-rise wood structure that could serve as a showcase for wood building design in Mississippi and an office space for the Mississippi Forestry Association.
“That doesn’t mean the winning design will necessarily be built, but it will provide MFA an opportunity to conjure interest and investment for such a project,” said Jacob A. Gines, MSU architecture assistant professor. “We at the MSU School of Architecture love the idea of being able to facilitate that process.”
Gines said a long history of “building tall with wood” in the U.S. halted following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 when international building codes began regulating wood use in the frames of mid- to high-rise structures. But recent innovations in wood design technology, such as cross laminated timber where thicker wood panels run perpendicular throughout the structures’ frames, are opening doors to taller wood construction with better fire ratings.
“These highly engineered wood products allow us to increase the strength and span properties of wood, so we can build higher while addressing life safety issues,” he said.
The architecture professor added that a lot is being done with these new wood innovations in Europe, the Northwest and Canada, but nothing in the southeast region.
With a showcase wood building that would demonstrate those technologies, Gines sees an opportunity for Mississippi to become a leader in the southeast to promote mid-rise wood-frame construction. That would help the state’s economy, he said, since 64% of Mississippi’s land is forested. It’s also an environmentally friendly way to build, he added, because timber is a renewable resource.
Last year, Gines challenged students in his fourth-year architecture studio to research high-performance wood construction and design a hypothetical 20-story wood building in Manhattan, New York. His materials class and a building construction science class also worked closely with MSU’s Department of Sustainable Bioproducts to further their knowledge on the subject.
MFA executive director Tedrick Ratcliff said interest in wood-frame construction is growing nationwide, and he is pleased to see MSU students looking for innovative ways to use one of the state’s most abundant resources. Regardless of whether the building the design students will propose ever comes to fruition, Ratcliff said MFA plans to make the most of the studio’s greater purpose.
“As soon as the first student puts pen to paper on one of these design proposals, people will have the opportunity to see the potential in this kind of construction,” he said. “Mississippi needs one of these buildings because people need to see it. And as people see these students’ designs, I believe it will draw businesses and other entities to want those kinds of buildings for themselves.”
Gines presented his research at the 2015 annual meetings for the MFA and Resource Management Service LLC., a collection of investors and stakeholders in the forestry industry. In September, he will host the Timber Innovations for Mississippi Buildings Reimagined (TIMB(R)) symposium.
“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We are hoping to do some incredible things in the future as we join forces with industry and university partners.”