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Engineers develop prototype for large scale timber building

MIT Mass Timber Design

Engineers have developed a prototype large scale sustainable municipal building, constructed using timber.

The researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), supported by a team including BuroHappold Engineering, have designed a structure called the Longhouse, where wood veneers from conventional lumber are laminated together in what the team calls a kind of supersized plywood.

The layers of timber veneers, better known as laminated veneer lumber (LVL), would be made into panels more than 15m long and 3m wide. The team’s design then uses these to make a series of arches more than 12m tall, spanning more than 14m across. These sections have added structural strength from a triangular cross-section. According to the team, these would need no internal support.

The arches would be factory-built and bolted together on site.

“The structural depth achieved by building up the triangular section helps us achieve the clear span desired for the communal space, all while lending a visual language on both the interior and the exterior of the structure,” said Demi Fang, an MIT architecture graduate student who was part of the design team. “Each arch tapers and widens along its length, because not every point along the arch will be subject to the same magnitude of forces, and this varying cross-section depth both expresses structural performance while encouraging materials savings.”

In the US, the use of structural timber is limited to residential buildings up to five stories, or commercial buildings up to six stories. The team is looking to wood structures built overseas as examples which could lead to building codes being changed, with Norway constructing what is currently the world’s tallest timber building at 81m high.

The design will be presented this October at the Maine Mass Timber Conference. 

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