DAVIS X Katerra

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DAVIS X Katerra

Apr 28, 2021

Collaborating with a mass timber expert to build the future.

Last week, our Renovation group topped out at the 80 M Street SE Vertical Expansion project. This critical milestone not only marks the incredible progress that our team and partners have made but is also an important step for one of the hottest trends in construction: mass timber. Wood building is in the middle of a huge comeback, and by delivering the first mass timber commercial office project in Washington, DC, we’re making our impact known.

Mass timber’s popularity has rapidly expanded in the last few years as the industry seeks out sustainable and cost-efficient alternatives to building with steel and concrete. Architects agree that the material supports gorgeous design and comfortable spaces, and the environmentally friendly advantages generate long-term returns for the entire construction value chain, from owners to surrounding communities. However, until now, the movement hadn’t reached the nation’s capital. Located in the burgeoning Capitol Riverfront district, the expansion at Columbia Property Trust’s 80 M Street property takes full advantage of the material’s capabilities. To increase the building’s height with minimum impact on the building structure, architect Hickok Cole, in conjunction with engineer Arup, proposed building with mass timber—a first for DAVIS, but a challenge we were ready to tackle.

Katerra has been a key partner as we deliver this crucial expansion. They have been our timber experts every step of the way—even going so far as to fly over their own teams from Washington (the state) to DC to directly install cross-laminated timber (CLT) slabs, the most common and familiar form of mass timber. The wood for each CLT slab was originally sourced from Canadian forests before being fabricated in Katerra’s state-of the-art manufacturing facility, home to one of the largest CLT presses in the world, and finally delivered to the site in DC throughout March and April. The project has only just topped out, but the timber’s impact can already be felt; the lightness and strength of Katerra’s CLT slabs facilitates the successful expansion of the existing 8-story structure, and the material stands out as a distinct feature.

So, what makes Katerra’s approach different? Zach Mendelsohn, Project Manager at Katerra, describes their process: “Our approach is unique because we’re fully integrated. We’re involved every step of the way, from design and engineering, to architectural support, manufacturing, procurement, and installation.” This hands-on approach has proved to be successful, and DAVIS Senior Project Manager Sean Fox credits Katerra’s expertise for the efficient efforts so far. “Katerra’s prefabrication has been key in this project,” Fox says. “They follow a very tight schedule, and every single delivery has been on time—and there have been 20-30 deliveries per week.” Mendelsohn says his team is excited to make an impact on the East Coast. “We’re ready to prove to a lot of people that even if we’re located in the Northwest corner of the country, we can competitively deliver quality mass timber projects to the East Coast.

The future of mass timber is still uncertain for now, as many developers and building owners are still not convinced it’s worth the learning curve. The East Coast doesn’t have the forests to provide timber at a larger scale, which drives costs up, and the logistics of sourcing materials from the Pacific Northwest can be complicated if not done effectively. However, the benefits are hard to ignore—globally, steel and concrete account for more than 10% of greenhouse gases released into the environment, and building with timber can greatly reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, CLT pre-fabrication allows buildings to be constructed faster and with less on-site waste. Recent trends seem to suggest the material is becoming more accepted, and the 2021 International Building Code will contain even more provisions to allow for mass-timber construction of taller buildings. For now, though, if you want to see proof of what amazing things you can build with wood, look no further than what DAVIS and Katerra are doing at 80 M Street, set to complete this fall.