LEVER Architecture is bringing mass timber construction into the mainstream

Emerging Voices

LEVER Architecture is bringing mass timber construction into the mainstream

The Architectural League’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series spotlight individuals and firms with distinct design “voices” that have the potential to influence the discipline of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design. The jury, composed of Sunil Bald, Mario Gooden, Lisa Gray, Paul Lewis, Jing Liu, Thomas Phifer, Bradley Samuels, Billie Tsien, and Ian Volner, selected architects and designers who have significant bodies of realized work that creatively address larger issues in the built environment.

The Architect’s Newspaper featured the Emerging Voices firms in our February issue; stay tuned as we upload those articles to our website over the coming weeks. The firm featured below (Portland, Oregon–based LEVER Architecturewill deliver its lecture on March 16, 2017, at The Architecture League in New York City. Click here to learn more!

Architect Thomas Robinson kick-started his career with Joseph Esherick, the architect best known for designing the Hedgerow Houses at Sea Ranch, California, followed by stints leading institutional and cultural projects at Herzog & de Meuron in Switzerland and Allied Works in Oregon. In 2009, Robinson, a graduate of UC Berkeley and later Harvard (studying under Peter Zumthor), decided to branch out on his own, launching LEVER Architecture from his Portland basement.

Over the past eight years, his firm has grown to 18 employees. A winner of the USDA’s U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize, LEVER Architecture has found a niche working with cross-laminated timber (CLT). “Timber is often hidden away,” Robinson said. “We want [timber] to be part of a greater architectural experience.” While mass timber construction isn’t new—according to Robinson it has been around since the 1930s—there is a rediscovering and understanding of the technology coupled with modern advances in fire safety, seismic engineering, and acoustics that has made it more feasible.

LEVER Architecture is currently working on a 90,000-square-foot, 12-story CLT high-rise in Portland. The project, Framework, incorporates a wood-core structure. When completed in 2018, it is expected to be the first mass-timber high-rise in the United States. The design relies on a post-tension CLT rocking wall, which, as Robinson explained, is a resilient low-damage design that takes advantage of the lightness and strength of wood. “Wood moves and can re-center itself,” he said.

Other recent LEVER projects also feature mass timber: There is Albina Yard, the first office building in the U.S. built with domestically manufactured CLT (LEVER Architecture recently moved its offices to this four-story, 16,000-square-foot building), and L’Angolo Estate, a winery tasting room in Newberg, Oregon.

At the core, Robinson explained that LEVER’s design projects are about the transformative power of materials. “It’s almost akin to product design at the level of a building.”

With funding from the National Science Foundation and a $1.8 million grant through the U.S. Tall WoodBuilding Prize, LEVER is implementing a performance-based design process throughout its projects. The grants help pay for additional research costs to demonstrate that CLT high-rise buildings are equivalent to traditional steel construction.

LEVER advocates mass timber as a more sustainable way of building while encouraging economic growth in the Pacific Northwest. “We look to the farm-to-table model, where people are connected more directly to the producer,” Robinson said. Translated from the culinary scene to the architecture world, the “forest-to-frame” approach is about building stronger relationships between architects, contractors, and the people growing the timber.

“We focus on simple materials and how to put them together to form transformative experiences,” Robinson said. “We’re interested in an economy of means. It’s rare being both at the cutting edge and having a seat at the table.”