Hands-On Pursuit of Aha Moments

July 08, 2015

How often do you get to speak directly with an expert when you have a burning question? When do you have a chance to observe a skill in action and learn by example? What do you gain from visiting a structure rather than inspecting a drawing or photo?

So much of the way we pursue research takes place on the internet-a treasure trove of ideas and instruction, but not always a substitute for face-to-face exchanges and hands-on exploration. Where is the adventure and thrill of aha moments that come with taking a deeper dive? With a new firm-wide initiative, SRG is expanding its research focus and increasing the value of discovery by launching a research travel fellowship.

Each year, seeking answers to a particular design issue, individuals will submit concepts and travel plans for consideration as part of a blind selection process. Four finalists then receive support to pursue their personal passions and work together as a team to explore shared goals of their choosing. Leaving home, they will go straight to the source of the most inspiring and challenging design issues today.

Communicating their findings upon return is a paramount commitment for these fellows too, and fully repays their rare opportunity to pursue a line of thinking without typical daily distractions. Through blogs, videos, articles, presentations, and discussions, the incredible connections they make-human and intellectual-will extend far outside our immediate surroundings.

The submission criteria are simple and open to interpretation, but consistently relevant. Proposals must address the built environment and have application to current design questions that are translatable to the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The three research categories: performance, delivery and experience.

This September, the recipients are going to Austria for ten days to investigate emerging technology through the lens of cross laminated timber (CLT). CLT originated in Austria and the country now leads the material's multi-story charge internationally. Austria will provide a rich source of content for the fellows by allowing them to get down in the trenches with the designers, engineers, manufacturers, contractors, timber managers, clients, and end users who all have a personal understanding of CLT's challenges and solutions.

Anticipation is rising for the stories soon to come. To add to the momentum, here's an introduction to our 2015 fellows and their creative forays into new knowledge.

Tim Richey, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

There are too many engineers in the room!

According to Tim, all the analysis, engineering, testing, and promotion of CLT has proven that it is a viable alternative building material in the U.S. and particularly in the Pacific Northwest. However, early adoption of CLT faces stiff competition from conventional structural systems. Instead of thinking of CLT as "just as good," Tim wants to know in what ways CLT might be uniquely superior.

"With the instruments of analysis, engineering, and testing already in our orchestra, architects must now act as composers and conductors to create something unique with CLT. Steel framed construction made the Seagram Building possible. Reinforced concrete made Ronchamp and the TWA terminal at JFK possible. What language of architectural design will be inspired by CLT and mass-timber technology?"

Emily Dawson, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Details, details

Emily explains that wood construction appeals to her for many practical reasons, but most of all for the way it appeals to non-architects. It's beautiful. Combined with durability, she points out that "beautiful" is the most sustainable thing a building can be, because people will love and care for things that are beautiful and well made. As a professional, she has worked on small wood projects (houses), as well as more complex structures. In turn, she wonders how it might be possible to simplify the way in which materials connect to each other, keep the rain off and create sturdiness. She wants to know how CLT fits into this equation and will take advantage of time in Austria to pursue its efficiency quotient in terms of four interwoven criteria: material, energy, delivery, and cost.

"How are the Austrian architects accomplishing larger spans, effective load transfer between horizontal and vertical timber members, and achieving significant, quantifiable material reductions for cost and carbon footprint savings. How are they using CLT efficiently in construction?"

Scott Mooney, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

Crisis as Opportunity: How CLT can meet the challenges of the 21st century and strengthen the fabric of our urban environment

Scott brings his world view close to home, noting that localization is critical to authentic sustainability. In order to foster resilient communities and minimize the global impact of human behavior, he wants to find ways to use resources at hand and become more self-sufficient. He also foresees the possibility of climate refugees coming to the Pacific Northwest, which , combined with urban growth, will increase the need for building stock. Scott wants to know how this change might be accommodated while current codes channel new construction to larger scales and the use of unsustainable and inefficient practices and materials.

"Cross laminated timber is in a unique position to reconcile these seemingly contradictory realities. How can this emerging technology be utilized in such a way that it not only allows us to build more responsibly but also to elevate the everyday experience of the occupant and the community as a whole through design?"

Yang Liu

CLT 101: A dialogue of exploring

Like a true sleuth, Yang plans to investigate the what, why, how, when, where, and who of CLT via a series of case studies. Her methodology links all the fellows' research and will create a common language for conversations about the technology among themselves and others.

What: Touring factories to understand the manufacturing process.

Why: Interviewing architects and owner groups about their choice of CLT.

How: Interviewing architects and manufacturers about the process of designing and building with CLT and touring a project under construction.

When: Talking with manufacturers, architects, and owners about the history of CLT in Austria to explore how fast CLT might become popular in North America.

Where: Interviewing manufacturers and architects about CLT's sourcing potential and constraints in North American, particularly in the Pacific Northwest.

Who: Asking manufacturers, architects, and owners about the importance of various entities being on board to spearhead CLT design and construction.

This savvy crew has already figured out that in traveling between the Pacific Northwest and Austria they will need to change planes in London-offering up a new opportunity to explore the most recent and innovative uses of CLT. That region offers a range of examples that are institutional, civic in scale, and set in more urban environments.

Stay tuned for their full report in the fall!

Bonnie Duncan