Rice University awarded grant for ‘mass timber’ building on campus

Rice architecture professors and their students built this model of a proposed two-block, mixed-use development for Detroit’s Corktown

Rice University has won a federal grant to help advance its plans to develop a building using “mass timber,” a type of engineered wood touted as being more environmentally friendly than concrete or other materials.

The $100,000 (SGD $138,320) grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service is a portion of $1 million (SGD $1.4 million) in funds designated to support the construction of mass timber projects on college campuses across the country.

Mass timber refers to the use of engineered wood products as the structural components in a building. Small pieces of wood are laminated and compressed to create large, solid panels that can serve as load-bearing beams, panels and posts.

“A thriving mass timber market helps maintain forest health and resiliency, supports employment opportunities in rural communities and advances sustainability of the built environment,” according to a Department of Agriculture announcement. The programme is a partnership with the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities.

Research on mass timber construction by Jesús Vassallo, left, Rice’s Gus Wortham Assistant Professor of Architecture, and Albert Pope, the Gus Wortham Professsor of Architecture, encouraged Rice University to consider the technique in plan to update Hanszen College

Recent advances in engineering have made mass timber a more viable method of constructing taller buildings. In January, the International Building Code, on which many city building codes are based, doubled the allowed height of a wooden building to 18 stories.

Houston-based Hines has been on the forefront of the movement. It has a line of wooden office buildings called T3, short for timber, transit and technology.

Rice’s proposal is for a five-story, 50,000-square-foot student housing building on its campus.

Mass timber buildings can replace concrete construction, which generates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, during manufacturing, according to an announcement from Rice, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2038. Rice’s architecture school also provides instruction on mass timber.