Steel and reinforced concrete have long been the predominant construction materials for commercial buildings worldwide, but in the past five years, mass timber construction has rapidly gained viability as an alternative. Engineered wood products, which include cross-laminated timber (CLT), nail-laminated timber, and glue-laminated (glulam) structural members, have attracted interest for their high strength-to-weight ratios, comparatively lower embodied energy, and innate ability to sequester carbon.
In September, mass-timber construction will become the centerpiece of "Timber City," an exhibition at the National Building Museum (NBM), in Washington, D.C., that will look at the evolving industry and its role in improving rural manufacturing communities and its benefit to urban centers, according to NBM’s press release.
The show is curated by Yugon Kim and Tomomi Itakura, founding partners of Boston-based IKD, an architectural design firm (which received an honorable mention in this year's ARCHITECT’s R+D Awards for Timber Waste Modular Unit, a building component made of—surprise—wood). Kim hopes "Timber City" will dispel common myths about wood in construction—“Isn’t timber combustible? What about deforestation?”—and demonstrate how “timber processing and manufacturing is high-tech” and can help “revitalize the American rural economy,” he says. “It’s an interesting time when forestry and manufacturing can be on same side, [instead of] on opposites sides.”
"Timber City" is based on a show that IKD organized about two years ago for BSA Space, where the Boston Society of Architects (BSA)/AIA and the BSA Foundation are located. But Kim says the industry has evolved substantially since then, citing the start of CLT manufacturing in the U.S., the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Tall Timber Building Prize Competition in 2014, and the introduction of the Timber Innovation Act of 2016 by members of Congress. Though the exhibition will walk visitors through the lifecycle of wood as the show in Boston did, Kim says, today “we're able to speak more about American manufacturing and American-based mass-timber construction, which we weren't able to do two years ago.”
IKD will also adapt the exhibition to NBM’s unusual layout: a jaw-dropping central atrium surrounded by peripheral galleries on two floors (with two additional floors closed to the public). He and Itakura drew inspiration from the Bjarke Ingels Group’s (BIG’s) 2015 "Hot to Cold" exhibition at NBM, which drew visitors to the second floor with an exquisite and comprehensive chronology of the firm’s projects and competition submissions through architectural models.
Two massive CLT panels will direct visitors to "Timber City’s" second-floor gallery space. The 64-foot-tall CLT panel and 40-foot-long horizontal CLT panel, manufactured by two U.S. firms—D.R. Johnson, in Riddle, Ore., and SmartLam, based in Whitefish, Mont.,—will also serve as a material-sample installation and exhibition wall, with graphics designed by IKD. Additional panels from both manufacturers and featured in the exhibition will “speak to the regional quality of the material,” Kim says, with different structural capacities and aesthetic and tactile nuances resulting from the uniqueness of the different tree species.
Along with the two winners of the USDA’s competition—Framework, designed by Lever Architecture, and 475 W. 18th Street, by SHoP Architects—the exhibition will also feature Murray Grove, the nine-story multifamily building in London designed by Waugh Thistleton Architects and completed in 2009, and Leers Weinzapfel’s Design Building at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Kim says his work in architecture the experience of curating "Timber City" even more significant. “Something like this exhibition can have a larger impact than designing a single building,” he says. “We’re fortunate and humbled to be able to show this material at the cusp of this renaissance, when perhaps [we] can affect the future of environment.”
"Timber City" will run from Sept. 17, 2016, to May 21, 2017, at the National Building Museum.