Developing new, modern wood product industries in California is a promising pathway toward healthier forests and reduced wildfire risks. This week, the state announced the winners of a competition designed to inspire and expand the use of innovative engineered wood products known as “mass timber” in building projects.
The state’s Mass Timber Building Competition awarded grants to four projects that will showcase the commercial and architectural potential of such products in addressing some of the state’s greatest challenges, including wildfire prevention, forest and climate resilience, and housing construction. Governor Gavin Newsom’s Forest Management Task Force and the Office of Planning and Research announced the following awards on Monday:
- California College of the Arts: $200,000 for a 107,000-square-foot hybrid four-story mass timber demonstration project as part of a campus expansion in San Francisco.
- Skid Row Housing Trust: $200,000 for a 77,190-square-foot, 14-story building at the eastern edge of the Skid Row neighborhood in Los Angeles. It will include 150 studio apartments and serve disadvantaged residents who formerly experienced homelessness.
- Orange County Sanitation District: $40,000 for a new 109,000-square-foot hybrid building to serve as a new headquarters. It will have a public lobby and lighting showcasing the wood interior at night.
- Sunnydale Development Company: $40,000 for a 31,000-square-foot community center building within San Francisco’s Sunnydale and Visitacion Valley neighborhood. It will house youth and family programs and recreational amenities in one of San Francisco’s most distressed public housing sites.
Mass timber consists of large-format panelized wood products, made from a variety of wood materials, that can be used to construct building projects. As a construction material, mass timber offers benefits including strength and fire resistance, a reduced carbon footprint, and aesthetic and functional advantages. It holds potential for addressing key challenges facing California.
“Mass timber has the potential to help advance three Newsom Administration priorities: affordable housing, healthy forest management, and rural economic development,” California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said in a release on Monday.
Glenda Humiston, vice president of University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, agreed, noting that it is critical for the state to develop wood product industries to make productive use of excess woody materials in forests, where overgrown conditions are contributing to catastrophic fire risks and unhealthy ecosystems.
“Spotlighting and supporting these kinds of projects is an important step toward building our collective knowledge, experience and understanding around the need to grow these kinds of advanced wood products industries,” Humiston said.
The Mass Timber Building Competition highlights a key solution space identified in the CA Economic Summit’s recent report, “California’s Wildfire Crisis: A Call to Action.” The report captured the grim toll of the crisis and the need for solutions that can address the massive size and scale of the problem. A primary cause of wildfires has been overgrowth and debris build-up within forests, as well as increasing numbers of Californians living in or near fire-prone areas. Today, 4.5 million homes and 11 million people live and work in the wildland-urban interface.
The Summit’s report highlighted the need to dramatically ramp up work to thin and treat at least one million acres of forested land annually over the next decade in ways that enhance forest resiliency, support ecosystems, and contribute to a more climate-resilient landscape. As the Call to Action explained, a key element will be development of new wood product industries, including mass timber, that make use of extracted woody materials, sequester carbon, help cover the cost of forest treatment, and create jobs and industries that can revitalize rural economies.
The Call to Action report has been endorsed by a number of key organizations and institutions, including Rural County Representatives of California, The Nature Conservancy, Association of California Water Agencies, California Forestry Association, The Sierra Institute for Community and Environment, The Gould Group, Pacific Forest Trust, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Center for the Study of the Force Majeure.
According to the state, California is the largest consumer of engineered wood products west of the Mississippi River, yet almost none of these products are produced in-state. Thus, the competition was designed to “stimulate the demand for buildings constructed using mass timber and generate investor interest in potential in-state production capacity while advancing its climate change and green building objectives.”
As Jennifer Montgomery, director of the Governor’s Forest Management Task Force, explained in a statement this week, the benefits are multiple and cross-cutting: “Wood is a green, renewable source of carbon-sequestering building materials that will help address environmental, social and economic issues.”
The Mass Timber Building Competition was organized under the Forest Management Task Force with leadership from the Office of Planning and Research, Natural Resources Agency, and Government Operations Agency. The competition was administered by WoodWorks.
Two projects received honorable mentions in the competition: A 640,000-square-foot two-story mass timber project with a living roof, designed within Microsoft’s Silicon Valley Campus, and a 75,000-square-foot free form mass timber building set in the forest and designed to serve as a central arts hub by the Tahoe Regional Arts Foundation.