Mass Timber Supports Mid-Rise Housing
While conceptualizing early design ideas for a multifamily building in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Monte French, principal of Monte French Design Studio (MFDS), and Alex Yoon, project manager, were searching for an elegant solution to the question of how to fit seven stories of aesthetically pleasing residential units into a structure that is less than 70 feet. At 70 feet the building would become subject to Boston’s more cost-prohibitive requirements that apply to high-rise construction. That conundrum prompted the team to consider the advantages of a mass timber structure.
“Designing with mass timber was new to the team and new to Boston,” says Yoon. Still, as French notes, “It is so exciting to step outside the norm. We love taking on these challenges.” And, evidently, the firm loves compounding challenges, as this 34-unit building is both the firm’s first mass timber and first certified Passive House project. Michael Hindle, principal of Passive to Positive, has been the Phius consultant. Currently under construction, the building is slated for occupancy in fall 2022.
Back in 2019 as Yoon was puzzling over his options, he realized that there were only two construction approaches to achieve the unit density the client wanted and still keep the building under 70 feet—all concrete or mass timber—but the concrete structure did not meet the client’s and team’s shared sustainability goals. So, Yoon initiated a feasibility study of relying on mass timber for this seven-story structure, working closely with the firm’s longtime structural engineer. Yoon also visited mass timber projects that were under construction in New York and consulted with Woodworks and the Quebec Wood Export Bureau, resources for wood building design and construction. His research eventually led to Nordic Structures, where discussions about the process, schedule, and pricing convinced Yoon and French that this company’s prefabricated components would be a good fit for this project. At that time the use of heavy timber for a structure was limited to five stories, so MFDS applied for and received a variance from the state on the number of stories and concealed spaces.