Wood is cool, trees are good, wood is better than steel at saving the world and keeps hippies happy. Going into the 2019 Mass Timber Conference, my expectations led me to believe I would walk away with a profoundly new way to tackle the structural challenges we encounter daily in the Lowcountry. Here was a series of products that seemingly could solve all our design problems and look good enough for the architects.
Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) achieved several of my expectations, but it also missed several key components that as a Structural EIT I had been hoping for. Instead, I walked away from the conference having picked up on a bigger trend and challenge in the construction industry.
CLT’s biggest advantage that was harped repeatedly was the ease of which structures could be constructed. All disciplines from contractor to architect praised its ability to simplify construction. Yet each of these players stressed more importantly that communication was the key to each project’s success.
Everywhere I turned during the conference I kept running into the same theme; better communication leads to better projects. Manufacturers talked about bringing them in early to a project to help avoid pitfalls; architects discussed how to inform new clients of best practices. Each session I attended and every booth I visited touched on this theme. Sure, they covered the benefits of Mass Timber, but no matter their affiliation they kept bringing up communication.
Don’t get me wrong, CLT certainly is a great product and I would love the opportunity to work with it in the future. But it seems to me that rather than trying to turn to a wonder product to solve my project woes all I truly need to do is improve the communication process.
Be it clearer drawings containing information the contractor needs or consistent discussions with the architect about their vision, our industry will improve if we all are at the table together. I see this daily in my own work but sometimes it takes a trip to Portland and a glimpse into other corners of the world to see what is all around you.