Portland, Ore., is planning to construct the nation's tallest all-wood high-rise building in an effort to boost the state's logging industry.
Framework, a 12-story, 145-foot-tall building received building permits this month that allow the high rise to exceed the current U.S. cap of 85 feet for an all-wood building.
Portland-based Lever Architecture designed the structure and was awarded a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in September 2015 in the Tall Wood Building Prize Competition. The USDA challenge was intended "to showcase the safe application, practicality and sustainability" of a mass lumber structure whose "ultimate goal is to support employment opportunities in rural communities, maintain the health and resiliency of the nation's forests, and advance sustainability in the built environment."
The timber is created through gluing two-foot by six-foot pieces of wood together at 90-degree angles and then sliding them into a press for drying. The lumber is strong enough to withstand both vertical and horizontal stresses.
Some of the grant's funding was used for scientific tests at Portland State University and Oregon State University, where experts tested the timber's ability to withstand various conditions. The glued, laminated timber passed a two-hour fire test.
"The innovations in wood construction that are part of the design of the Framework building will help change how America builds in the years to come. Modern wood-based building systems create opportunities to increase the use of wood products, which is better for both the environment and rural communities," said Steve Lovett, CEO of the Softwood Lumber Board, which helped fund the grant.
The Oregon Building Codes Division and Portland Design Commission approved the building's timber assembly and structural integrity last fall, and construction is scheduled to begin in the fall.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said the project could have a huge positive effect on the local lumber industry and state economy. In the early 1970s, lumber and wood products made up 13 percent of the state's GDP, according to the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. But by 2010, the amount of wood produced was closer to 1 percent, killing jobs in rural areas in those four decades. Employment in the wood manufacturing industry was cut in half from 1990 to 2016, according to the Oregon Employment Department.
"Oregon's forests are a tried and true resource that may again be the key to economic stability for rural Oregon, expanding opportunity for communities hit hard by the decline of the natural resource economy," Brown said. "The Framework building shows that we can use sustainably harvested timber in a sustainable way to act as a catalyst for economic development through the creation of timber and manufacturing jobs in rural economies."
The potential demand nationwide for buildings made with the timber could add between 5,800 and 17,300 jobs in Oregon, according to a soon-to-be released study that Oregon BEST, a nonprofit that advocates for new technologies, helped conduct. However, the group did not share any statistics on the effect on competing types of building materials.
The idea of a wood skyscraper is a relatively new concept to Americans, but the Europeans began incorporating Cross-Laminated Timber into building projects during the 1970s.
Seattle was the first U.S. city to approve the use of the timber but capped building heights at six stories. Currently, Minneapolis boasts the tallest mass timber building at seven stories. New York City is starting a 10-story residential condo in Manhattan's West Chelsea neighborhood, a project that also won a grant in the USDA competition.
Framework says the Oregon building will be more sustainable than LEED-certified non-wood buildings, which are the gold standard in the industry. The company says it will save 60 percent in energy compared to the code it is supposed to meet and will result in 1,824 tons of carbon dioxide offsets, enough to take 348 cars off the road for a year.
However, competitors that use other types of building materials argued the move sets a "dangerous precedent" even though the plan met state building requirements.
"It's a sad state of affairs when the economic arguments made by politicians, rather than the words of caution made by engineers and fire safety professionals, are being used to justify certain construction methods," said Kevin Lawlor, a spokesman for Build with Strength, a coalition of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. "Oregon state residents deserve to live free from worry that their homes and businesses aren't unnecessarily exposed to disaster all for the sake of creating jobs and negligible cost-savings."