Building Massive with Wood

[M]ass timber is poised to become a significant part of how America builds. The sustainability implications for the places we live, work, and play are huge.
— Steve Marshall, U.S. Forest Service

Here at OCH we have built timber frames of all sizes, from barns to beehives. We have a special fondness for smaller frames because we want to spread the idea that a timber frame home can be within reach of smaller homebuilding budgets. There’s no need to settle for a lower-quality model- or pre-fab home so long as the customer values quality (hand-craftsmanship, durability, sustainability, artistry) over quantity (square footage). We’d love to see more younger families building homes--timber frame homes--in which to raise their children surrounded by those quality values.

But this passion for small doesn’t dampen our enthusiasm when a customer comes to us looking to build big. After all, if one has the good taste to build a timber frame of any size, that’s something we can definitely get behind.

This summer, in fact, we are tackling our biggest project yet. So big, that “big” seems like an understatement. Let’s go with “massive” for this one … a former golf course clubhouse in the wilds of Northern Michigan being converted into a private residence. The 100-foot diameter radial porch overlooking a vast valley of trees is being rebuilt as a timber frame using logs harvested from the property.

Here’s the thing about massive structures … they encourage people to come together. And people coming together is powerful. Some anthropologists believe it is why humans are the dominant species on Earth, because alone among all animals we have an exceptional ability to gather in order to cooperate, to work together. When parties gather in this spectacular new space, connections will be made, ideas exchanged, relationships strengthened. And I can’t help but think that all will be more more lasting, inspired, stronger by virtue of the frame seemingly floating overhead which itself has all those same qualities.

Serendipitously, within the theme of “massive,” one of my favorite people on Earth--my cousin, Nick--sent a link to an article about an MIT class designing for mass timber construction. This group of scientists and designers is setting out to make a case for the use of wood as the primary structural material in massive construction projects, even very tall buildings, for many of the same reasons that we’ve always promoted for timber frames … sustainability, energy-efficiency, durability. Steve Marshall, an assistant director of cooperative forestry with the U.S. Forest Service, is quoted in the article as saying “... mass timber is poised to become a significant part of how America builds. The sustainability implications for the places we live, work, and play are huge.

Think about all the semi-loads of structural material that didn’t have to be trucked for hundreds of miles to our isolated project site in Northern Michigan. The trees were harvested only hundreds of feet away from where Dan set up his Wood Mizer portable sawmill, which is only dozens of feet away from the house.

Think about all the many years those trees stood, capturing tons of carbon pollution from the air, sequestering it forever for the better health of us all. And now beginning a second life, benefitting people again in a different but equally powerful way.

Think about it, and then stay tuned for updates on this amazing project on our Instagram and Facebook pages. We are so excited to show you more as it develops.