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A.A. 'Red' Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory in Corvallis will boost research, education efforts

PMG PHOTO: AMANDA LOMAN - Jorn Dettmer, technical manager for the TallWood Design Institute, uses the Kuka robot to cut and serve a slice of cake during the grand opening for the A.A. Red Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory.Oregon State University and the University of Oregon may be fierce competitors on the football field. When it comes to mass timber, however, the two public universities have become collaborators whose joint efforts in research and education are helping build a new industry in Oregon.

With the grand opening of the A.A. "Red" Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory on Thursday, Oct. 10, those efforts are taking a giant step forward.

The new 17,500-square-foot wood products lab building at 3205 S.W. Washington Way on OSU's campus in Corvallis will do more than provide formal offices for the Tallwood Design Institute, which previously shared space with the university's Department of Forestry. The institute previously worked with faculty members and students in testing spaces scattered around the OSU's campus as well as U.O.'s campus in Eugene. While those spaces will still be used, the new lab will allow the institute to offer a more substantial, single space for testing and research, according to Evan Schmidt, the institute's outreach coordinator. The lab also comes equipped with the latest in technology — including a German-manufactured Kuka industrial robot that will be used to mill wooden components. The lab also features dedicated spaces with 40-foot ceilings for structural wood testing and advanced wood products manufacturing.

"Faculty members are always vying for lab time — a lot of these tests take a long time," Schmidt said. "(The new lab) gives us more space in terms of resources at our disposal."PMG PHOTO: AMANDA LOMAN - Attendees talk in front of the mass plywood pavilion during the grand opening for the A.A. Red Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory on Thursday, Oct. 10.

The lab is part of a larger plan to create a new 95,000-square-foot Forestry Science Complex on OSU's Corvallis campus that eventually will include the George W. Peavy Forest Science Center. Currently under construction, the forest science center is slated for completion in March 2020. The lab and the forest science building feature designs by Michael Green Architecture with construction overseen by Andersen Construction.

Building an industry

Since being formed in 2014 as a unique collaboration between OSU's engineering and forestry colleges and U.O.'s College of Design, the Tallwood Design Institute has been involved in research and product development of mass timber products such as cross-laminated timber and mass plywood as well along with providing testing for structural timber projects such as LEVER Architecture's Albina Yard, a speculative office building in North Portland.

The institute also has played a vital role in the development of mass timber products in Oregon, an economic engine that has been touted as a way to create jobs and bring money to the state's rural communities. When Douglas County-based D.R. Johnson decided to become the first manufacturer in the country to become certified to produce cross-laminated timber, the institute conducted fire and structural tests for product development. The institute also worked with another Oregon company, Freres Lumber Co. in Lyons, to develop mass plywood panels. Both of those products are featured in the under-construction forest science center. PMG PHOTO: AMANDA LOMAN - Iain Macdonald, director of the TallWood Design Institute, and Judith Sheine, director of design, speak during the grand opening for the A.A. Red Emmerson Advanced Wood Products Laboratory.

Another key role for the institute is supporting research by undergraduate and graduate students, including a study examining the potential for using fast-growing low-value poplar trees as material for cross-laminated timber. The involvement of professional architecture and engineering firms helps provide those students with real-world research opportunities.

LEVER Architecture, for example, is preparing to start working with students to use the new wood products lab to study and test acoustical aspects of mass timber, Jonathan Heppner, the firm's director of projects, told the Business Tribune.

"LEVER has a lot of active projects that the product development and research here will end up helping," Heppner said.

Mass timber showcase

As the Tallwood Design Institute settles into its new home, a short distance away Andersen Construction is working on the second phase of the university's Forest Science Complex.

The George W. Peavy Forest Science Center is being touted as a showcase of mass timber, from glulam beams to the use of cross-laminated timber floors. PMG PHOTO: AMANDA LOMAN - Juliana Ruble, project engineer with Andersen Construction, points out a building monitoring system inside the George W. Peavy Forest Science Center during a facility tour.

"Standing in Peavey, you have mass plywood from Freres above you; you have CLT from D.R. Johnson below you," U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said. "It's like you're fully encapsulated in the story of mass timber in Oregon."

The building is slated to be finished by March 2020, but the project has been a long time in the making. A groundbreaking for the Peavy center, which will serve as the home of OSU's forestry college, took place in late 2015 and was initially slated to wrap up in 2017. However, the project ran into a string of problems that delayed completion.

The most highly widely publicized of those delays occurred in March 2018, when a section of the CLT subflooring in the building collapsed. While no one was injured, the failure of the material caused a delay in work while engineers determined what had happened.

The engineers found a 4-foot-by-20-foot section of the CLT panel had delaminated, a situation that resulted from a problem in the manufacturing process when adhesives used to hold the pieces together were improperly cured.

D.R. Johnson, which manufactured the panels, corrected the problem. However, panels already installed in the Peavy Hall project had to be evaluated to make sure they didn't have the same problem. In an article published in March 2018, the Corvallis Gazette-Times reported 40 faulty panels had been replaced with another 45 identified for possible replacement.PMG PHOTO: AMANDA LOMAN - The new home of the Tallwood Design Institute at Oregon State University.

While the CLT panel issue caused a slowdown, the project's ballooning price tag from an originally planned $60 million to a final $79.5 million, was attributed mostly to an increase in construction costs — a problem that has plagued projects across the country in the past few years.

To keep costs from spiraling out of control, the size of the Forest Science Center was scaled back, and some features were eliminated.

Even so, the building contains an impressive inventory of unique systems and materials.

The three-story, 80,000-square-foot structure will contain three stacked lab spaces, classrooms and offices. The building is designed to be a showcase for a variety of mass timber products, all sourced within 250 square miles of the Corvallis site, according to Juliana Ruble, a project engineer with Andersen Construction. In addition to the CLT floor panels and shear walls manufactured by D.R. Johnson, the ceiling features mass plywood made by Freres Lumber Co.

The structure also features the latest in seismic resiliency – cross-laminated timber shear walls, which Ruble said is the first such use in the country. The system features rods that run from the basement up through each level that allow the walls to move along with plates designed to absorb the energy during a major seismic event. Once the incident has passed, the rods can be retightened, returning the building to usefulness in a relatively short time.

"You typically have to demolish a building after a major earthquake," Ruble said. "With this system, you can fix it and then reoccupy the building."

The unique aspects of the building aren't limited to the mass wood materials being used.

The building features a large amount of glass, including floor-to-ceiling windows in some classrooms. Using traditional glazing to help control the amount of heat coming through the windows, however, would have pushed up construction costs. Instead, a layer of nanofilm — the thickness of a human hair — is sandwiched between the panes of each window. The film, which has been used in museums to protect sensitive exhibits, automatically darkens or lightens by as much as four tints, based on the amount of temperature and the time of year, Ruble said.

"That allowed us to reduce (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) and HVAC systems as well as eliminate glazing," she said.

Meanwhile, monitors in the ceiling will track the building's "vitals," gathering a constant stream of data related to temperature, moisture and vibrations that can then be used to study the performance of the mass timber materials used.

"It's basically a living lab," Ruble said of the building.

Even as a showcase for mass timber, the building still relies on more traditional building material. The CLT floor panels have been overlaid with three-and-one-half-inch-thick concrete topping slabs. In addition to accommodating radiant heating and cooling systems in the floor, the combination of materials offers strength along with the absorption of vibrations and sound.

"Concrete is structurally important to this building," Ruble said.

Future plans

The Tallwood Design Institute will be able to ramp up its research even more in the future as a result of two additional projects expected to take place in the future.

The University of Oregon board recently approved the construction of a facility on the university's campus in Eugene to test the acoustics of mass timber products. The building is planned for completion by 2021; however, a site hasn't been selected yet.

Also, Oregon State University is awaiting approval to begin building a Corvallis facility dedicated to testing fire resistance in mass timber products.

The two schools also are rolling out two new programs: a certificate program in manufacturing and construction and a mass timber design track in U.O.'s architecture master's program.

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