Architecture conference keynote presented ideas for new design approaches

By Lynn Baker, Interior Designer

The American Institute of Architecture-Oregon Chapter held its annual Oregon Design Conference in May, and the Ascent Architecture & Interiors’ team of design and interiors professionals attended the premier two-day event. The entire conference was full of information and innovation, and the keynote presentation was no exception. Eric Karsh, founding partner of the structural engineering firm Equilibrium Consulting Inc., presented the keynote address. Among other things, Karsh discussed innovative uses of wood products that are transforming building design and construction.

Example of CLT. Photo Credit: SmartLam/Jared Medley Photography.

Example of CLT. Photo Credit: SmartLam/Jared Medley Photography.

Although my primary work focus is on interior design, I’m always finding influence for interiors from what designers and builders choose for materials throughout the building process. One aspect of Karsh’s keynote that piqued my interest was his discussion about a new construction material called cross-laminated timber (CLT).

Traditional wood construction systems include post-and-beam and stick-frame construction, but a shift over the past 15 years has shown more instances of large sheets of solid wood construction as a viable construction type. This method, CLT, is where wood sheets are glued and sometimes screwed together to produce extremely strong structural panels.

From an architectural perspective, CLT allows for new forms to emerge in architecture.  Organic shapes can be created by cutting panels with a computer numeric control (CNC) machine,

Example of CLT. Photo Credit: SmartLam/Jared Medley Photography.

Example of CLT. Photo Credit: SmartLam/Jared Medley Photography.

which allows for more sculptural designs.  This could potentially allow wood to reach new heights in architecture.  Studies are being conducted for the use of CLT to build skyscrapers. Karsh co-authored a report, “The Case for Tall Wood Buildings,” in which he researches the ability to use CLT to design a 30-story building with a structure entirely of wood.

Building with CLT has many practical advantages, too. The renewable nature of wood makes CLT more environmentally friendly than other construction types.  Additionally, the energy used to make, transport, and maintain the product is less than with other traditional building materials like concrete and steel.

Another advantage of building with CLT is a reduction in construction time, since the panels arrive on the construction site pre-fabricated. Karsh sited one example of a custom home using a stick-built method taking 19 months to be completed, versus and home using CLT that was completed in 6 days.

Example of CLT. Photo Credit: SmartLam/Jared Medley Photography.

Example of CLT. Photo Credit: SmartLam/Jared Medley Photography.

It’s always exciting to learn about innovations in the industry, especially when a product comes along that promises to open new doors for architectural design. The fact that this can potentially have such a large and wide-spread impact on various aspects building projects makes it particularly exciting.

To learn more about CLT in general: http://smartlam.com/about-clt/

To learn more about Eric, visit his company’s website: http://www.eqcanada.com/projects/

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