CADC Offers Architecture Courses Focused on Mass Timber
This past fall, the College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) offered coursework in mass timber, a rapidly growing technology being used in the design and construction fields. Professor of Practice Tom Chung taught a seminar to primarily fourth year architecture students while adjunct studio critic Will McGarity, with Professor Chung in an advisory role, taught a studio focused on mass timber architecture to third year students.
Mass timber products are created by gluing, nailing or doweling together wood products to create structural panels, beams and columns, and they are specifically engineered to be just as strong as concrete and steel while weighing less. “There are three main components of mass timber that make it the future,” Chung explained. “One is sustainability. We can’t grow concrete, we can’t grow steel and we can’t grow glass, but trees grow themselves so long as we manage our forests well. And by nature it captures carbon, which is preventing that carbon from being emitted into the atmosphere. Second, wood is a beautiful material that people love to be in. And the third aspect is that because it’s pre-fabricated there is less construction waste, quicker construction and quieter construction.”
Chung’s seminar course delved into these benefits of mass timber, with students gathering knowledge and exploring the latest research. “Before the class, I loved mass timber for its aesthetic qualities,” said student Daulton Holland, “but this class informed me of many other benefits.” Student Kyle Cash agreed but stated the best part of the class was interacting with Professor Chung. “I thoroughly enjoyed hearing Tom talk about practice,” he said. “It was really nice to have one-on-one time with a practicing architect who laid out the entire design process for us. For fifth year I plan to explore mass timber construction further in my thesis.”
While the seminar was a research-based elective, the bulk of McGarity’s studio, a required course for third year students, was hands-on design time. “We introduced mass timber as a concept to a group of students who did not sign up for this mass timber studio,” McGarity stated. “They were placed in the studio, so they didn’t really know what they were getting when they showed up.” The students completed three projects throughout the semester, the first of which was an assignment to study a mass timber precedent and then present some sort of illustration of the concept, whether it was animation, hand drawings or physical models.
Next the students embarked on a three-day road trip, visiting Atlanta, Dothan and Birmingham and also making a stop at CADC’s Rural Studio in Newbern, Alabama. They saw various types of mass timber construction projects and research and also visited a cross laminated timber manufacturing facility. With this knowledge under their belts, they were then assigned to design a small mass timber restroom facility for a recreation area near Sylacauga, Alabama, owned by the Alabama Forestry Commission. “It was the first time any of them had built anything on any type of topography, not a flat site,” McGarity said. “It brought up a lot of questions about how mass timber works on topography.” Once that small project was completed, students then spent the rest of the semester designing a 15-18,000 foot welcome center for that same location. “They were able to apply some of the things they’d learned in their research, in their travels and in that first small project to complete the final project,” McGarity said. “We threw them in the deep end, but we showed them some of the best examples of mass timber out there. Tom and I both run our own firms and what we asked them to do was to consider the practical side of architecture. The feedback I got was that they appreciated that.”
“I like how the studio schedule was well planned and thought through so that it made perfect sense in the end,” stated student Salah Alzahrani. “The first studio project was a great introduction to the use of mass timber on a small scale. The main project was the most fun part of semester as we took our time with it. Now I feel like I have an extra tool in my arsenal that I can use in my future projects.”
Chung says that after last semester, the CADC faculty are continuing to discuss what mass timber education should look like in the college. “We have begun conversations to evolve the curriculum so that all of our students going through architecture at Auburn get the fundamentals in mass timber education,” he said. “That will be geared toward second years as part of their Wood Comp studio. We’re talking about having another set of courses for upperclassmen with the aim of creating a mass timber certificate or concentration.” For now, students who are interested in mass timber can view last fall’s seminar work on display in Dudley Hall through the end of the semester.