08/10/20 Fifth-Year Students Explore Heavy & Mass Timber Building Techniques


As sustainable practice becomes even more of a priority for architects all over the world, USC School of Architecture professors and students are working to create innovative and aesthetic structures for a cleaner tomorrow. Fifth-year studio 500aL, Comprehensive Architectural Design, is the only architecture studio in Southern California that focuses on a new, innovative building technology: heavy and mass timber structures. Adjunct professor and studio coordinator Roland Wahlroos-Ritter was inspired by this technique, which has been developing in Europe over the last 20 years, that repurposes leftover timber in the construction of high-rise structures. Over this past school year, fifth-year Bachelor of Architecture students in Wahlroos-Ritter’s studio explored the use of heavy and mass timber in high-rise buildings in urban areas and created models that support a green future.


To kick off the studio in fall 2019, the class visited Portland, Oregon, to see the technique in action. On the trip, students were inspired by real-life timber structure examples. Students learned that with the use of heavy and mass timber, building time is reduced by 50-70 percent, making it a useful technique for dense urban areas. Moreover, the quick, quiet, and clean installation reduces construction costs significantly. When the timber is sourced locally, it will sequester carbon, proving this technique ideal for cities of our future.


“I consider heavy-timber construction, specifically cross-laminated timber, the next disruptive building technology that allows sustainable buildings to be faster and more cost-effective,” explained Wahlroos-Ritter. “USC was the first school of architecture to introduce heavy-timber technology in its fifth-year Tall Timber Studio three years ago. Since then, we’ve developed a leading expertise in high-rise design with heavy timber.”

Upon return from Portland, students were eager to get started on their models and utilize this technique in their work. Students were challenged to understand the limitations of this technique while also exploring the vast possibilities it offers to drive their creative designs and presented their models during the fall 2019 final reviews.


“Starting my fifth year with a visit to Portland was an eye-opening experience for me. Heavy mass timber construction is very common in Portland, and visiting the city provided me with different methods and techniques of construction and design,” explained Fadi Abd-al Malek, B.Arch ‘20. “Driving my focus towards Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) was another stepping stone to my sustainable design approach as I get ready to launch my career.”

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