mass timber susan jones podcast

Learn how to build a carbon-free building that is safe, economical, and healthy by the use of wood in this episode. Tom and Susan Jones dive deep into details of Mass Timber and its importance today.

“And my dream more than anything is to have more and more buildings built ideally out of mass timber, but as sustainable as possible. “


Susan Jones is an architect and founder of Atelier Jones. Susan has forged this cross disciplinary approach through embracing methodologies mined from sustainability and materials research from historic preservation and adaptive reuse movements to real estate development as well as community activism. Susan is also the author of Mass Timber Design and Research.



  • How did you get into Mass Timber? Our practice at Atelier Jones has been involved with researching materials from a sustainability lens for ever since we opened our doors some 15 years ago here in Seattle. We’re really doing that out of the founder, I guess that’s me, founder and sole owner of Susan Jones. Our intent is to try to bring a lens of design through everything we do to also to introduce principles and strategies and tactics for how we can make our buildings more sustainable. And that’s been a personal quest of mine to unite both beauty and performance, if you will, for our projects and our clients and our buildings, as many opportunities as we possibly can do within our client’s goals and budgets. It just became clear that for the larger scale buildings, a lot of the concrete and steel we were using as a profession in our larger buildings, especially, were incredibly carbon intensive. And if we could find other biophilic, or natural materials as a substitute for those, that would be a really good lower carbon equivalent intuitively, we felt because of course, wood embodied carbon and holds carbon as well, we news and grows within sustainable forest strategies. They had to use natural materials in construction which is wood.
  • Can you share what the lens of design and everything we do means for you? Being a creative person, I’m always a little skeptical to just take the tried and true solution if you will, and pull it off the shelf so to speak, but to bring some level of creative thinking and whether that’s a design detail for a small chapel in a big Cathedral in urban Seattle, or whether it’s the design problem of how you design a house for yourself or your family in the middle of a city on a tiny, tiny postage stamp of a lot, or how do you bring creativity to some of the building codes to take a huge lump leap and scale that we’ve been doing for the International code council as part of a larger committee? I think that creative thinking can sometimes get me in trouble I agree, but we’re always bringing it into a factor of just creativity and beauty that really can help others see what you meant and convince them just because they get it because that element of beauty, I don’t want to be transcendentalist, but I think we all know it when we feel it and it seems to transcend cultures pretty clearly.
  • Why does the phrase oasis of space in relation to Mass Timber mean so much to you? It was this beautiful oval garden lawn right in South Park, and it’s kind of carved out of the dense South of Market grid below San Francisco. I’m walking past this oval green and it just felt like the whole city just opened up and it was like this oasis of space and I was going into my interview and I really wanted this job but because I hadn’t had a job really in architecture or design since maybe my high school years when I took a little drafting job from my high school teacher, but I really wanted this job with the Burdett Group because I could have my lunch out in this oasis of space in the middle of San Francisco and look at the tall Embarcadero towers there and just feel like I was quiet and centered and just in the middle of the eye of the storm.
  • How did the book come about? When you’re an architect, your basic deal is to work with your clients to design a building and to get it built. And that’s everybody’s dream. And my dream more than anything is to have more and more buildings built ideally out of Mass Timber, but as sustainable as possible. And there’s nothing more enticing than working closely with a client and a really well constructed team, from the contractor to this design sub consultants, engineering. The essence of seeing the design come from an idea in your head into reality on site eventually is really exciting And so we were doing thesis students up at the University of Washington, we were working on these smaller projects, we were doing a lot of things that had to do with research and teaching and then building the house. And then a couple years later, I was asked to be part of this national code committee that the AIA American Institute of Architects national invited me to be on this code committee. And it was with A Team really amazing hyper intelligent code gurus of which I was not a code guru, but I was kind of a Mass Timber guru, so set through with those folks for about two and a half years on a volunteer basis. I had these built design projects out of Mass Timber, code work, teaching work with students that was just it was super exciting. I just said, “I’m getting calls about what Mass Timber is from people that seem to have gotten my name from somewhere. And I might as well just put it all in a book, kind of a do a brain dump and get it out into the world.”
  • Was the passing of the 54, 50 bill in Washington State something that you sought to be a part of and contribute to? That bill, I believe is the one that changed the building codes for Washington State. And if I’m not mistaken, I don’t remember the exact number, but after spending the time working on the national code committee, there was a group of us that was led by for Tara which is a nonprofit here in the Seattle Pacific Northwest area and they have really embraced Mass Timber as a way to both balance the forest conservation issues and sustainable forestry management issues which they encounter in a lot of their rural areas and constituents with the really important idea of bringing nature into the city and providing density that is really livable and embraces nature within the city.
  • Can your share your experience with Community Housing and why they mean so much to you. They are my client for this incredible building, and I want to be forthcoming about that. But even last night, they had a major fundraiser here in town, and of course, it was virtual, as we all are doing all these things now, but it was exciting to see how they kind of reformulated their program to adapt to a virtual audience and there was several hundred people that were logging in and listening and of course donating the same kind of money that they would have done for a lunch and or for dinner. They’re really venerable group about 40 to 50 years old here in Seattle; they were mandated by the City of Seattle to start up their mission and were to provide affordable housing for citizens in Seattle. And they’ve done a fantastic job over the years maintaining that mission, growing that mission and expanding it and really going beyond their roots on Capitol Hill to a broad spectrum of communities all around the Seattle area from white center to South Seattle, all the way up to some of the shoreline near North Seattle areas, but really brought in the center at around the Capitol Hill area.
  • Where do you foresee Mass Timber in the next several years? It will be more common as long as we do it right and the carbon studies continue to show good progress there and the constructive management of the forest come in, as really responsible, I think there’s going to be a lot of really good stuff happening. And I’m really confident that we as an industry will get there very quickly.
  • Why does beauty and performance mean so much to you? I was definitely drawn as an architect to beauty, it’s certainly one of the reasons that I became an architect, when my parents had the chance to build a house when I was five, and walking through that house, and it was a beautiful house and the way it used space and light was absolutely exquisite. And we had to build a house sometime later, because of an illness in our family that I can’t say was beautiful. And so the difference is, even as a young child was pretty clear to me between a beautiful house or beautiful space, so what I thought was beautiful, and one that was just kind of ordinary and every day, and that importance of beauty, I think we’re instinctually drawn to it as humans. It means more to some people than others. And there’s a lot of issues in our world and I don’t want to say that beauty is like the answer to everything by any means, but I think we all have a place to understand our gift in the world and where we can move forward and how to be the best Tom Dioro, how to be the best Susan Jones and like, I have a little bit of that to offer the world and I’d like to keep doing that.