Portland, Oregon’s Waechter Architecture Has an Expanded Vision for Mass Timber Construction

Portland, Oregon-based Waechter Architecture (WA) has had mass timber a core part of their practice for the past decade. WA has been studying and developing projects to expand knowledge of this increasingly popular building material in the region and test its construction efficiencies, energy performance, and cultural and market adoption across design typologies.

WA’s research on mass timber architecture has received a grant from the USDA/U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovations Program, with additional support from the Softwood Lumber Board.

WA’s studio space, dubbed the Mississippi Workshop, is a three-story prefabricated mass timber structure designed, developed, and built by WA as a test bed for its in-house all-wood construction research. The building is the first commercial project in Oregon to use mass timber construction for all building components, except for sheathed metal exterior and the integrated radiant concrete flooring. WA used exposed wood for all surfaces, purposely avoiding hybrid systems. “The idea with this building was to do a modern and high-tech building, but also a primitive one,” said the firm’s founding partner Ben Waechter.

This building has helped WA confirm early design assumptions and address challenges along the way. “It’s a really tight envelope, with a tilt-up system with panels that go from the foundation to the roof with no horizontal breaks in the wall, so there’s no air leakage,” Waechter says. “There’s a concern with having systems so fully integrated into the body of a building. Because the power, data, and mechanical systems are going to fail at some point.” This reality led them to rethink future iterations more like “primitive vessels” that, through their rational simplicity, allow maximum spatial and systems flexibility.

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