Harder takes it easy with mass timber
There's a stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Northeast Portland that will soon have a standout building in its strip of old taverns and cottage weed stores.
Harder Mechanical Contractors, a company that installs heating and cooling systems in commercial buildings, from apartments to semiconductor fabs, recently topped out its new headquarters.
Harder demoed the three buildings there that it had occupied since 1946 and had Ankrom Moisan architects design a two-story mass timber building in its place.
In this case, mass timber means glulam beams to hold it all up and cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels for the floors. CLT is light, strong, and fast. Erecting the structure only took 30 days in December 2020.
For Harder, the first meeting with the architects was in 2017. The mechanical company has 1,800 craft workers, many of whom are working on job sites around the world — sometimes for a year at a time. The Portland headquarters is designed for executives, project managers, finance and other administrative staff. It could be an unglamorous box, but designers Kim Gonzales, Michael Great, and Caroline Hather at Ankrom Moisan wanted large windows that will show off the timber's warm tones, particularly when it is lit up at night. The renderings show subtle indents and obtuse angles that give the building a unique character.
As of Jan. 13, the site was just a skeleton. The glulam beams were finished and installed by Swinerton Mass Timber, the wooden arm of the San Francisco-based general contractor, which was formed in 1888. These columns rise from shallow concrete footings. They don't need to go more than a few feet deep to be safe in an earthquake because the building will eventually be so light, even with brick cladding on all sides.
In the center of the mostly wood structure, there is a framework of steel beams to keep the structure stable in an earthquake. Still, as you walk around, even with the slanting rain darkening the wood panels underfoot, the feeling is of being in a light, airy structure.
The windows are set to be installed in February, and the building should open for business on Bastille Day, July 14, 2021. Harder Mechanical's Project Manager picked that day because he's a Francophile.
Brian Hoover recalls, "Aesthetic was the initial driver, then once we started to learn more about it, we saw it's actually cheaper than steel in a lot of ways. It'd be harder to get your open office concept."
He also remembers that the first general contractor, looking at Ankrom's design, wanted to build part of the structure with car decking, four by six planks that are nailed down, one at a time.
As a firm of engineers who strive for efficiency in all things, Harder management was not impressed at the logic of assembling the building in the rain in such a slow manner. CLT panels seemed much smarter, and they switched contractors to Swinerton.
"In our world, we want to pre-fabricate as much as we can, and then ship it out to the construction site." For instance, "If you have a pump, and a filter, and another piece of equipment, and a valve, we build a little skid, a platform, and we bolt it all together in our shop. Then we send that out on a truck. Now we've got like 50 components that are assembled in a dry, safe environment, a controlled environment, and we send them out to the job site. They're hoisted up onto a roof and then bolted down, and you have two connections to make instead of 100. It's safer, and it's more productive because it contains your variables."
Harder is also saving money — and gaining quality control — by self-performing some tasks such as and the mechanical, naturally.
The latter is important in the time of viral threats. Hoover says since COVID they have boosted the air handling system's power so that they can bring in outside air more vigorously to combat airborne viruses in a future pandemic. They also made all bathrooms and doors touchless.
He adds that the plan is definitely to have people come back into the office once COVID is under control.
"If everybody was going to continue to work from home, I think we would have scratched the project, right?" They will reduce the density, improve airflow, and put in some basic barriers, "But we haven't changed the basic refers to the project with respect to COVID. …People should be coming into the office to work because it generates more interaction, and we have a better workforce if we're near each other."
Hoover says the company "is interested in being a part of this new technology, which is supporting sustainability and supporting business. And which are feeling strongly about maintaining their place in the community in Portland."
Walking around the site, Andrew Georgesen, a project executive at Swinerton, points out where skylights will bring light deep into the building's center. He points out the metal hardware which connects the wooden members. All this work is done by Swinerton, as a skilled intermediary between the wood manufacturers and the architects. They use Manufacton software (which is used a lot on modular building) to track every part with a bar code.
The designers Kim Gonzales, Michael Great and Caroline Hather at Ankrom Moisan wanted to keep it simple, for example, the reclaimed wood stair runners, which Swinerton is shaping on its CNC machine.
Great explained, "Part of the idea of this building was to try to keep the structural systems as simple as we could and then do some more sophisticated moves on the exterior skin using the brick, and nuanced little moves here and there some shadow lines."
Hather liked how Swinerton models everything in 3D before cutting the mass timber. "So, they find screw clashes in advance, and we've had a very low number of RFIs in completion of assembly. That's been really impressive."
She added it had been fun working with Harder's engineering-minded staff.
"We're exposing a lot of fasteners, the mechanical system, the ceiling, and they want that. They say 'We want to figure out a way where there might be a mechanical system or a pipe or something where otherwise you might hide it, we want to see it, because that's our industry.'"
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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