Mass timber buildings come to life

The new George W. Peavy Forest Science Center will be unique, not just because of the atmosphere, but because the building will also be a living laboratory.

This living laboratory is one aspect of the SMART-CLT project, led by Mariapaola Riggio, assistant professor of wood design and architecture at Oregon State. The goal of the SMART-CLT project, which stands for “Structural Health Monitoring and Post-Occupancy Performance of Mass Timber Buildings,” is to analyze critical factors impacting the performance of cross-laminated timber during its service life, and develop protocols to monitor these factors in buildings. The SMARTCLT project will study cross-laminated timber on a small and large scale, and will be applied inside the Peavy Forest Science Center, soon to be the new home of the College of Forestry.

“Our project is looking at what is sometimes deemed as ‘serviceability of a structure,’ which includes everything from how the material vibrates, which can be a limiting factor in terms of design for long spans; deflections of the material and acoustics. We’re looking at a variety of factors,” says Evan Schmidt, outreach coordinator at the TallWood Design Institute (TDI).

Riggio says the study is multidisciplinary. The research team involves architects, engineers and industry professionals who will analyze the project from a variety of perspectives. The project is funded by TDI, a collaboration between Oregon State and the University of Oregon and the nation’s leading research collaborative focused on advancing structural wood products.

“It’s not just how the system and the building performs in terms of standard and code requirements, it’s also how it is accepted or how it contributes to the well-being and the comfort of the occupants. That’s why it’s important the project involve a number of partners,” Riggio says.

The living laboratory will provide information for many generations to come.

“Usually research is just a limited amount of time, but this project will last as long as the life of the building,” says Riggio.

The sensors used to monitor the building are a unique aspect of the project, an original idea which will help researchers see what is happening inside the materials of the building.

“We want to understand which approach can be the most effective when analyzing the overall performance while delivering meaningful and valuable information,” says Riggio.

Schmidt says the sensors outfitting the building will monitor the indoor environment, temperature of the mass timber elements, moisture content inside of the wood at various depths and locations, vibration, post-tension loss in the wall systems and more. There will be about 176 different sensor locations.

“We’re measuring a bunch of performance parameters relative to the environment,” Schmidt says. “It’s important to capture because wood is not an inert material. The way it interacts with the environment will impact the way it performs, long-term and short-term.”

While the project will last the life of the building, researchers will also monitor short-term insights during construction to understand the immediate effects.

Researchers believe this project will provide a better understanding of how best to promote the use of mass timber in construction in the U.S.

“We need flagship structures,” Schmidt says. “We need to conduct research during and after construction. The combination of the two will make the public aware and excited about the benefits of mass timber buildings.”

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