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Courtesy of Christie McNeal / Mississippi State University Kirby L. Lockard, a Mississippi State senior architecture major from Decatur, Ala., discusses design ideas for a solid-timber, mid-rise tower in Manhattan, New York. She and other four-year architecture students completed the project as part of a fall 2015 wood-based design studio course taught by Assistant Professor Jacob A. Gines.

New studio at MSU to focus on innovative wood design

By LISA MONTI

A $10,000 grant along with matching money will fund construction of a design studio that promotes innovative wood products and building methods in Mississippi.

The $10,000 Community Partnerships grant was awarded by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc., an international nonprofit that promotes responsible forest management. The Mississippi Forestry Foundation and other partners in the industry added $12,000 in a grant match for the design studio.

The design studio will be used by fourth-year undergraduate students at Mississippi State University’s School of Architecture. Called TIMB(R): Timber Innovations for Mississippi Buildings Reimagined, the studio will hold a competition in which students will design plans for a mid-rise wood structure that could become a showcase for wood building design in the state as well as provide offices for the Mississippi Forestry Association.

Jacob Gines, MSU architecture assistant professor, said, “That doesn’t mean the winning design will necessarily be built, but it will provide MFA an opportunity to conjure interest and investment for such a project. We at the MSU School of Architecture love the idea of being able to facilitate that process.”

According to Gines, the practice of “building tall with wood” was discontinued in the U.S. when international building codes began being applied to wooden frames in mid- to high-rise buildings after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

But, he said, recent innovations in wood design technology, such as cross laminated timber where thicker wood panels run perpendicular throughout the structures’ frames, are renewing interest in taller wood construction that result in better fire ratings.

“These highly engineered wood products allow us to increase the strength and span properties of wood, so we can build higher while addressing life safety issues,” Gines said.

Interest in wood-frame construction is gaining favor around the country, and the new wood innovations are gaining momentum in Europe, the Northwest and Canada. Right now, the interest doesn’t extend to the Southeast, but by using the new wood building technologies in Mississippi, Gines said, the state could take the lead in promoting wood frame construction for mid-rise structures. It would also help Mississippi’s economy, where 64 percent of the state land is forested.

And since timber is a renewable resource, the wood construction is also found to be environmentally friendly.

Architecture students have already done some research into the use of high-performance wood construction, according to MSU. Last year they designed a 20-story wood building for an urban Manhattan setting and worked with MSU’s Department of Sustainable Bioproducts to learn more about the process.

Such training and research by the students is ultimately good for the timber industry, one of the state’s most abundance resources, said Tedrick Ratcliff, MFA executive director. It doesn’t matter if the studio designed for the competition is ever built.

“As soon as the first student puts pen to paper on one of these design proposals, people will have the opportunity to see the potential in this kind of construction,” Ratcliff said. “Mississippi needs one of these buildings because people need to see it. And as people see these students’ designs, I believe it will draw businesses and other entities to want those kinds of buildings for themselves.”

Gines has been spreading the word about the research to investors and forestry industry stakeholders.

“This is just the beginning,” he said. “We are hoping to do some incredible things in the future as we join forces with industry and university partners.”

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