California-based Swinerton Builders is headed to New York City after a change in building codes promises to open up the door to more mass timber construction projects starting next year.
In October, New York City approved the use of cross laminated timber (CLT) for structures up to 85 feet tall beginning in January 2022. CLT is a mass timber product made from gluing multiple layers of wood together in such a way as to maximize strength. Mass timber products have also been approved for use in tall buildings by the International Code Council. Most building departments and construction regulatory bodies across the U.S. incorporate at least some elements of the ICC’s codes into their own.
Swinerton plans on tackling the New York City mass timber construction market via its affiliate company Timberlab Inc., which designs, fabricates and provides installation services for this type of construction project. Swinerton, said Andrew Pearl, company vice president and division manager, has completed 20 mass timber projects across the country, including the largest installation of CLT in the U.S. in 2016 at the First Tech Federal Credit Union Oregon headquarters in Hillsboro, Oregon.
“As New York City building codes allow for mass timber construction, Swinerton is at the ready to be the city’s mass timber contractor,” Pearl said.
The New York City market
But is the New York City market ready to embrace mass timber?
“We feel positive about the market adopting mass timber,” Erica Spiritos, Timberlab’s preconstruction manager, told The Construction Broadsheet. “Mass timber addresses the urgent need for low-embodied carbon materials in construction, and this need is felt by owners, developers and architects all across the country.”
More mass timber in the Northeast, she said, should also translate to a more robust local supply chain.
“It can be a regionally-sourced material, using the trees that are native to the geography of the project,” she said. In the Northeast U.S., that includes spruce, pine and fir, as well as black spruce.
There is still some work to do, however, before New York City sees a jump in the number of mass timber projects.
“Passing new building codes is a great first step,” Spiritos said, “but it’s not the only thing needed to actually deliver mass timber. Many local agencies and AHJs (Authorities Having Jurisdiction) still need to be educated on the systems to review future planning applications, issue permits and process inspections.
“Another challenge could be gaining acceptance from the trade partners as this is a new building type they’ve never been exposed to.”
Timberlab plans to use its own in-house skilled labor, at least initially, and then draw from the local New York City workforce once the company is established there.