Keynote: Designing in Timber


Designing in Timber: a Collaborative Approach to Architecture, Engineering, and Construction

Presented by Laura Britton, AIA, Associate, Shigeru Ban Architects, Dean Maltz, AIA, Partner, Shigeru Ban Architects, and Greg Kingsley, PhD, PE, President & CEO. KL&A, Engineers & Builders at ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference.

Capping off the 2023 Practice + Design Conference, the fourth and final keynote presentation explored Shigeru Ban’s collaborative approach to architecture, engineering, and construction through a series of case studies representing the architects’ 38-year trajectory of work in wood.

Why Wood?

Wood is a renewable resource, it is often locally sourced, it provides biophilic design benefits, it helps achieve clean construction sites, and it is a high-performing material from a carbon sequestration and life-cycle analysis perspective.

Designing in Timber | Unfound Door
Designing in Timber | Unfound Door

What is mass timber?

Mass timber is solid wood building products, such as glulam beams and cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels that use small diameter timber to build up large structural elements. The small diameter timber provides the responsibly sourced material that can help manage forests. Additionally, timber is generally oversized to prevent burning by allowing the outer layer to char, and an example of a 1,300 year old Japanese temple was shown as evidence of the materials longevity.

Shigeru Ban Architect’s strength is how the material informs the building form and provides integrated structural and architectural solutions that portray a building’s authenticity. In many solutions, the structure is also the finish.

Because timber design and construction necessitate an interdisciplinary approach at the project’s outset, structural engineer Greg Kingsley was there to present ten key considerations for every timber project.

  1. Is timber the right solution? It is not right for every project!
  2. Establish your building type and understand the code requirements.
  3. What is your fire-resistance rating?
  4. Acoustic requirements (timber is inherently bad for acoustics)
  5. Establish your grid (deflection and vibration criteria)
  6. MEP strategy?
  7. Optimize for wood volume.
  8. Find potential suppliers.
  9. Connection design
  10. Erection strategy and tolerances

These code and engineering questions are all critical to the final architectural solution and need to be addressed early. Following these important considerations, the group presented a series of case studies that demonstrated successful and iconic timber projects and the practice’s design evolution in the building material.

Designing in Timber | Unfound Door
Designing in Timber | Unfound Door

Case Studies

GC Osaka Building – Feature: wooden fire protection around steel structure. This project demonstrated an early and innovative use of timber in construction. The building used a steel structure, but for the fireproofing Shigeru Ban tested and proved that a wood wrap will provide the necessary fire rating as well as the final wood finish.

Tamadic Nagoya – Feature: CLT concrete formwork left in place for wood finish and added strength.  Similar to the GC Osaka project, concrete was required structurally, but CLT formwork was used as a leave-in-place form to influence the final look of the building.

Centre Pompidou Metz – Feature: laminated wood in hexagonal woven pattern. This project exhibited the strength of wood as a building material in the final architectural form, however, this earlier example still relied on elements of steel at the connection points of the grid.

Tamedia New Office Building – Feature: seven story rigid frame entirely out of timber without steel joints or braces. In this project, the integration of architecture and structure succeeded in a fully wood frame without the reliance of steel at the joints.

Aspen Art Museum – Feature: long-span timber space frame roof structure with woven wood panel façade. This building starts to show more sophistication by the wood-only connections and CNC curved truss webs that gradually increase in depth at column locations to withstand additional forces.

Swatch Omega / Omega Factory – Feature: timber grid structure that mirrored the precision, clean, and quiet construction of the watches created in the buildings. Because of its undulating shape, the timber structure in this project was built from a digital, parametric model rather than traditional construction drawings. It was also a highly integrated design which used contiguous perforated ceiling panels to allow low volume air distribution to meet clean room standards, ETFE roof cushions for daylight, glass, CLT solid panels, and PV panels. The entire volume of timber used (4,600m3) corresponds to 10 hours of growth of all of Switzerland’s trees.

Kentucky Owl Park – Feature: multiple timber structures in a park setting at one of the oldest whiskey distilleries in the U.S. The buildings showcased the distilling process and incorporated visual elements of the local bourbon-making process

The case study presentation provided an overview of Shigeru Ban’s design evolution, illustrating the progression from cardboard tubes to the sophisticated parametric digital fabrication of timber elements.  Ban’s commitment to innovation and sustainability was evident throughout the trajectory of his career.

Designing in Timber | Unfound Door
Designing in Timber | Unfound Door

See more ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference coverage at

Also, keep an eye out for Laura and Dean’s conversation with Adam Wagoner on the Architect-ing podcast to be released in the coming weeks.

About the Author

Matt Honegger, AIA

Matt Honegger, AIA, has been practicing architecture for 15+ years in Denver on predominantly large-scale commercial and civic projects including office, convention centers, and airports. As his career evolves, airports have become a primary focus, and he is currently working on the future of air travel as an airport designer and terminal planner.

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