Embracing wood in design and construction


Port Angeles arts enthusiasts last month celebrated the groundbreaking of Field Hall – a premier arts and culture venue that is scheduled to open in 2021 and will serve as home to area arts organizations like the Port Angeles Symphony Orchestra, Port Angeles Community Players and Port Angeles Fine Arts Center.

Throughout the design process, Field Hall supporters envisioned creating an “iconic structure that reflects the grandeur, beauty and cultural history of the North Olympic Peninsula” while offering local residents a “viable and economic alternative to driving to Seattle or crossing the Canadian border to see comparable entertainment.” But the Field Hall design and architectural renderings also boast another significant feature. The 40,140 square-foot building’s exterior and interior incorporates a significant amount of timber.

Field Hall is among a wave of building projects in Washington state and throughout the US that are integrating considerable amounts of timber in their construction and design. Citing concerns over climate change, an increased desire to naturally reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the growing acceptance of mass timber products, builders, developers, consumers and architects are looking to responsibly sourced wood and innovative timber products to create aesthetically pleasing spaces that are durable, easier to build and better for the environment. Recent changes to the building code also have made tall wooden building projects made of engineered wood products like cross-laminated timber and glulam beams feasible.

The advantages of choosing timber are numerous. Wood is a natural material that offers great insulation, lower production energy, lower overall impact on the environment compared to concrete and steel, is easy to work with, and visually beautiful. And to avoid waste, lumber mills also use byproducts like bark and wood chips for other forestry products.

Timber products, and the working forests they originate from, also help remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Throughout the life of the tree, carbon dioxide gas is stored in the branches, trunk and roots and the carbon continues to remain sequestered throughout the life of the wood product. Said University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences associate professor Indroneil Ganguly to the Seattle Times:

“When we take the wood out of the forest, we are planting new forest and sequestering new carbon,” said Indroneil Ganguly, associate professor at the UW’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and one of the authors of the study. Building with timber, he said, is “almost like multiplying the acres of forest.”

The stepped-up demand for wood products in Washington state and increased use of mass timber is timely. A Seattle Times article this week that reports that the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb, due in large part to extraordinary population and economic growth, even though “emissions per resident declined.” Much of the increase is related to “rising transportation and building heat emissions” that have overshadowed progress made in other sectors, the story reports.

In the meantime, environmentalists and the timber industry are hoping that more cities, developers and builders look to wood products to help address climate change and provide economic opportunities for working forests. Said Mark Wishnie of The Nature Conservatory to the Seattle Times:

“If cross-laminated timber is going to make a difference for climate, we’re going to need to rapidly scale it up. A single building is great. But to really make a difference for climate, we need to rapidly increase the pace.”

Once completed, Field Hall amenities will include:

  • A 500-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium
  • Conference and event space with the capacity of up to 400 people
  • An intimate space for smaller groups, receptions and meetings
  • A full catering kitchen
  • A 1000-square foot art gallery
  • Full box office and ticketing center
  • A waterfront coffee shop