Wood frame commercial building is making a comeback

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - The Radiator is part of the three-building One North development at North Vancouver and Fremont. Though its wood structure isnt evident on the outside, interiors feature high ceilings, and warm, natural colors created by laminated wood beams.Oregon scored big in the latest design awards from WoodWorks, an initiative of the Wood Products Council for innovative use of wood in the design of commercial and multi-family buildings.

Three of the nine winning projects are in the Portland area, while a fourth winning project is in Bend.

When developer Ben Kaiser built the Radiator building as part of the One North development at N. Vancouver and Fremont it was, at 65 feet, the tallest Portland wood frame building to be built in years. Now wood frame commercial buildings are sprouting up across town.

“I think to its fair to say that this was a pioneering project in its height and use of timber, and I think it has proven to others that the sustainable attributes and carbon sequestration attributes are worth it,” says developer Ben Kaiser of PATH.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - Like a reclaimed warehouse or loft, the interiors of the Radiator feature natural wood ceilings and beams, but without the mechanical structures cluttering the space. Architects design a plenum, or space between floors, to route most of the conduit and plumbing.During the manufacturing of concrete and steel, large amounts of carbon are created. Wood, on the other hand, holds (or sequesters) carbon. “Only if it burned would it be released back into the atmosphere,” says Kaiser.

“We almost stumbled into the idea of timber framing, as a result of an eco-summit in Seattle,” Kaiser says. “Now there are 65-foot buildings all around Portland. Even in the last year and a half.” Engineering of the Radiator was done by Munzing Structural Engineering.

The five-story building doesn’t look like a wood frame building from the outside, but step in and you’ll be welcomed with high ceilings, warm woods and huge windows. It includes an innovative shutter system that constantly adjusts to allow light and heat in when needed, and block it out to prevent excess heat gain when it’s not. The building is also equipped with an earthquake detection system that will text tenants if it senses an impending tremor.

It’s similar to a loft building or warehouse that has been reclaimed, but it has state of the art window systems, HVAC and insulation says Kaiser. Unlike reclaimed spaces, architects on the Radiator created gaps, or plenums, between floors that carry most of the conduits and plumbing that would otherwise clutter the wood-beamed ceilings. There are some pipes, but most are for the building’s fire sprinkler system.

Kaiser sees the interior as being the new Class A office space. “People are moving to Oregon, but not to be in a fluorescently lit office space,” he says of the drop ceiling, drywalled office space common to most commercial projects.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JOHN M. VINCENT - Ben Kaiser's firm both developed and designed the Radiator. He feels that sustainably and locally produced engineered wood products are absolutely the answer to carbon-creating concrete and steel construction.“We’ve proven out that this is what people want, and will pay a lease payment that will support it,” says Kaiser.

The project cost $8.5 million, and was completed in 2015, according to the Wood Products Council. Developers earned a $350,000 grant from Metro for the Transit Oriented Development and another $420,000 for a central courtyard with was turned over as a public park under Metro’s Nature in Neighborhoods grant program.

Building the 36,000 sq. ft. Radiator was high risk in quite a number of ways. No commercial office space had been built in the corridor “in a long, long time,” says Kaiser, and developers wanted to build it without the standard number of parking places for the size of the project.

“That’s risky because institutional lenders do not like that,” he says.

Kaiser and his team worked out an agreement with a church just north of the project to use their parking lot during the week, when services are not going on. The Radiator is part of a larger project, with two other buildings designed by Holst Architects. All together, the One North development includes 110,000 square feet of office and retail space.

With decades of debate about the timber industry’s impact on the environment, it’s easy to question how a large wood structure could be seen as sustainable. Kaiser sees it from a different perspective, noting that the highly engineered wood used in the project comes from 20-year wood products.

COURTESY: JOSHUA JAY ELLIOTT - The Central Eastside Industrial Areas Framework won the WoodWorks 2016 award for commercial wood design. Its a five-story timber-frame building wrapped in a glass facade. Framework was completed in 2015.“They’re not even in the realm of old growth,” he says. “The young forests consume a tremendous amount of carbon.”

“If we build, I think engineered product wood sustainably and locally harvested is absolutely the answer. It’s job creation, it’s carbon sequestration and it’s all about locally sourced products,” emphatically states Kaiser.

The next step in wood construction will be the use of cross-laminated engineered products. Alternating the direction in which the wood layers are laminated creates a structure that rivals steel in its load bearing attributes. Kaiser foresees a day in the not so distant future where walls and other modules will be built in a factory, and assembled on site like giant Ikea furniture.


The Central Eastside Industrial District’s Framework building design team likens the structure to a ship in a bottle, with its wood structure visible inside a glass facade. In addition to giving outsiders a glimpse of the interior of the structure, the floor to ceiling windows give tenants excellent outward views.

On the ground floor is retail space, with four stories of office space above. Heavy timbers form the frame of the building and 80 percent of the wood in the building is exposed. The wood frame rests on a concrete base that holds the project’s retail components.

The architect on the 24,447 square foot project was Works Partnership Architecture, and it was completed in 2015 at a cost of $2.95 million. Engineering the structure was TM Rippey Consulting Engineers.

Gresham Fire Station 76

Designed by Hennebery Eddy Architects and engineered by Nishkian Dean Structural Engineers, Gresham’s new Fire Station 76 near Dodge Park doesn’t look anything like a fire station you’ve seen before. The apparatus bay (where the trucks are parked) features 27-foot glulam arches and roof framing designed to resist earthquakes.

Siding for the firehouse is reclaimed douglas fir, which has been charred using an ancient Japanese technique, creating a “carbonized” layer that protects it from the elements and fire. The $3.22 million, 10,120 square foot project was completed in 2015.

COURTESY: JOSH PARTEE PHOTOGRAPHY - Fire stations need to comply with strict earthquake-resistance requirements, and Greshams Fire Station 76 does so by using 27-foot Glulam wood arches in its apparatus bay. It won the WoodWorks award for Institutional Wood Design.

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