Undergraduates explore use of mass timber

Students nervously pace the second-floor knuckle of Richardson Hall on a cool, spring day. Some flit to the walls to make sure their posters are perfectly secured and their models are ready to shine. Others nervously nibble on chips and watermelon.

It’s final exam time, and for students in assistant professor Mariapaola Riggio’s class, that means making a presentation in front of their classmates, other faculty members and industry professionals.

The class, Timber Tectonics in the Digital Age, examines how the design and construction of timber structural systems benefit from digital techniques. Architecture students from the University of Oregon’s School of Design are invited to enroll alongside Oregon State students studying renewable materials, wood science, civil engineering and construction engineering management.  All students work collaboratively, as part of a small team, thinking critically about how digital tools might be able to change the wood construction sector.

For their final project, the students were tasked with creating a ‘wood products pavilion’ that might represent the TallWood Design Institute at the International Mass Timber Conference in Portland in 2019. The institute is one of the nation’s top research collaboratives focusing exclusively on the advancement of advanced wood products. The students used parametric techniques to design adjustable forms, and then refined them according to structural analysis information. The final challenge has been to plan the construction process appropriate materials and detailing.

“We’ve had a great partnership,” says Nancy Yen-Wen Cheng, Architecture Department head at the University of Oregon. “And it has been a privilege to co-teach with [Riggio]. She brings knowledge of the latest advances in timber structures and has been insightful about how to employ my digital design specialization.”

Brent Stuntzner of CB Two Architects in Salem agrees. He served as one of the judges of the students’ final projects.

“I’m always really excited to go in and ask the students questions,” Stuntzner says.

Despite their nervousness, the students prevailed and presented thorough and exciting final projects.

“They are full of creative ideas,” says Stuntzner. “And after this class they are prepared to go into a variety of different environments within the construction and wood products industries.”

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