U.S. Forest Service and Softwood Lumber Board launch a $2 million mass timber design competition

America’s Next Top Timber Designer

U.S. Forest Service and Softwood Lumber Board launch a $2 million mass timber design competition

The Cooper Carry-designed Andy Quattlebaum Outdoor Education Center at Clemson University, a Regional Excellence Award-winning project in the 2021 U.S. Wood Design Awards. (Jonathan Hillyer)

The United States Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Oregon City, Oregon-based Softwood Lumber Board (SLB) have partnered to launch a second national mass timber design competition.

Dubbed Mass Timber Competition: Building to Net-Zero Carbon, the $2 million competition seeks to “showcase mass timber’s innovative applications in architectural design and highlight its significant role in reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment;” project grants of up to $500,000 will be awarded to multiple project teams. The funds will enable the winning project teams to design and build repeatable and scalable mass timber buildings. As detailed on the competition homepage, the funding will specifically “support costs associated with the use of mass timber or mass timber hybrid building systems and construction” while also aiding project teams in clearing the “barriers in adopting newer building materials and systems, most notably the costs of analyzing design and engineering alternatives and verifying that these solutions comply with applicable code(s).”

A wide range of building types—commercial, institutional, educational, industrial, mixed-use, and affordable multifamily housing developments—can be submitted into the WoodWorks-managed competition so long as the timber sourced for the project demonstrates sustainable forest management and contributes to forest and watershed health. Single-family homes are not eligible and evaluation preference will be given to typologies in which timber construction shows potential but is largely underrepresented including healthcare facilities, large warehouse distribution centers, big-box retailers, and tall buildings ranging from 6 to 18 stories. As mentioned above, hybrid projects that incorporate other structural building materials are also eligible provided that timber products such as cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber (NLT), glued-laminated timber (glulam), and dowel-laminated timber (DLT) are the dominant components used.

Eligibility for the competition extends to U.S.-registered for-profit organizations and companies including architects, engineers, developers, and building owners along with domestically incorporated not-for-profit entities such as colleges, universities, and associations. Local governments and Native American Tribal governments and organizations are also eligible.

“We see tremendous opportunity in the link between mass timber construction, sustainable forest management, and the health and resiliency of U.S. forests, especially as we look to mitigate the impacts of climate change like increased wildfires in the western United States,” said USDA chief Randy Moore in a statement.

As noted in a press announcement, the competition program will also “share lessons learned and research findings, including carbon footprint life cycle assessment results, to help support future mass timber projects.” The competition’s proposal submission process kicks off early next year (a firm date has not been announced) and the winning projects are slated to be announced in late spring/early summer 2022.

The announcement of Mass Timber Competition: Building to Net-Zero Carbon, comes just a little over a month after the SLB and USDA signed a Memorandum of Understanding that solidifies and expands the existing public-private partnership between the two that “seeks to grow demand for wood products as natural climate solutions.” As detailed in a September 14 press release, “the organizations will jointly explore and coordinate additional market development, research, technological advances, and other activities to expand the use of wood in the built environment.”

“With 17,000 commercial and multifamily buildings built annually in the United States, there is significant potential to improve the carbon footprint of the built environmental using mass timber building systems,” said Cees de Jager, president and CEO of the SLB. “Wood construction’s embodied and embedded carbon benefits offer the building sector a viable and credible path to net-zero carbon.”