Exploring sustainability, design, and innovation in mass timber construction

Top takeaways from the International Mass Timber Conference

T3 Goose Island in Chicago
Caption T3 Goose Island in Chicago

What's the Point?

The recent International Mass Timber Conference brings together mass timber experts around the world to explore the future of construction with a focus on sustainability, design, and functionality.

Hines' own Vice President of Conceptual Construction Mike Horvath joined by industry leaders —Jonathan Pierce of Ivanhoé Cambridge, Stephen Cavanaugh of DLR Group, and Susan Croswell from HDR Inc., with moderation by Andrea Newton of the Urban Land Institute — delved into the compelling 'Why' behind large-scale Mass Timber Development and its impact on the built environment.

Here are the top five takeaways from the panel discussion:

  1. Origins of Innovative Projects
    The panel shared intriguing stories behind groundbreaking mass timber projects, highlighting the importance of understanding market needs in shaping innovative endeavors.

    They discussed the genesis of the first T3 project in Minneapolis. This vision for T3 was primarily driven by the imperative to meet tenants' evolving expectations for upgraded facilities. The team acquired an old warehouse characterized by brick and heavy timber construction and despite consistent tenant demand for leasing, the space faced challenges such as poor natural light and malfunctioning elevators. Recognizing this, the team conceptualized T3 by contemplating how to retain the warehouse's historical charm while integrating modern amenities. This project exemplifies the fusion of historic charm with contemporary functionality, driven by tenant demand for modern amenities in industrial spaces.

  1. Embracing Sustainability
    During the discussion, there was a notable emphasis on the escalating importance of sustainable building practices, particularly regarding the reduction of embodied carbon. The group highlighted the significant shift observed in the embodied carbon movement from 2020 to 2024, underlining the urgency for action. It was noted that it is necessary to deliver improved building solutions within five years to truly achieve progress in sustainability, which emphasizes the evolving direction of the industry towards more environmentally conscious practices. Additionally, the influence of tenants in driving the adoption of mass timber indicates a substantial shift towards sustainable construction materials.

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In the dynamic landscape of mass timber construction, it's imperative to embrace sustainability and innovation while staying attuned to market demands. This balance between tradition and modernity defines our approach, ensuring that every project meets the evolving needs of our tenants.

Mike Horvath, Vice President, Conceptual Construction

  1. Design Matters
    Today, companies recognize the importance of creating work environments that attract employees, driving the market towards innovative design solutions.

    As a result, design has emerged as a pivotal factor in the success of mass timber projects. Detailed design considerations, especially regarding mechanical and electrical systems, transform construction into a craft that elevates the overall quality and appeal of modern workplaces. In mass timber construction, everything is exposed, necessitating thoughtful placement of mechanical and electrical components. Attention to detail has shifted the paradigm of design towards craftsmanship rather than mere functionality.
  2. Scalability and Investment Opportunities
    The scalability of mass timber projects presents broader investment opportunities, attracting a diverse range of investors. Mass timber projects are typically smaller, which allows investors to do more projects in a quicker time frame. This scalability facilitates replication, accelerating the adoption of mass timber construction in the industry.
  3. Challenges and Opportunities
    Despite its potential, mass timber faces challenges in widespread adoption. Educating tenants and stakeholders about its benefits and overcoming misconceptions are crucial steps in driving acceptance. Additionally, showcasing mass timber buildings to potential tenants remains essential in fostering trust and interest in this innovative construction material.

    The insights shared during the panel discussion illuminate the transformative potential of mass timber in shaping the future of construction. From its humble beginnings to its status as a sustainable building solution, mass timber continues to revolutionize the built environment, guided by innovation, design excellence, and a commitment to environmental stewardship.