Reducing Carbon through Use of Mass Timber in Life Science Construction

Episode 49

Reducing Carbon through Use of Mass Timber in Life Science Construction

Can mass timber construction successfully meet the rigorous requirements for life science buildings? The structural engineers, sustainability leaders and designers at DES Architects & Engineers have done research, calculations, and designs to suggest it can. Listen in to Kenny Hung and Tom Parrish enthusiastically describe their journey of discovery.

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"We have looked at other research, other papers for other building types like office buildings, there's a substantial reduction in terms of using mass timber as a structural material which is lighter weight, that is a natural material that can store and sequester carbon embodied carbon. And one of the things that we found out, compared with concrete as a baseline study, that using mass timber we substantially reduce the amount of embodied carbon by roughly in the range of 70%."


CCB: [00:00:03] Welcome to the ONEder podcast. This is your host CCB. And today's session is a conversation with one of our 2022 ONEnder Grant teams. I'm excited to have a conversation today with Kenny Hung and Tom Parrish from DES. Tom, why don't you introduce yourself to us?

Tom Parrish: [00:00:22] Hello, I'm Tom Parrish with DES Architects and Engineers. We're a multidisciplinary design firm on the peninsula, and I run the structural engineering group here. And so, my role was kind of I, I doodle a lot, and my role was kind of taking one of my engineering ideas and marrying it to a lot of Kenny's ideas on sustainability and seeing if we could find some real benefits. And then my role was kind of leading the structural engineering aspect of the research in terms of making sure that what we are proposing really performs in a similar way to buildings that are currently being constructed out there.

CCB: [00:01:16] So I am going to say for everyone who's listening, there's a research report where you're going to be able to look at all the drawings and understand more about the research. So, if there's some question as we're having this conversation, know that you do have access to that. So, Kenny, tell us a little bit more about your role.

Kenny Hung: [00:01:32] Well, I thank you CCB and Tom, my name is Kenny Hung. I'm very excited to be here. And I'm a designer by training and I'm always interested in, you know, of combining design and sustainability into one approach, one process. And so that's why I'm here. I am currently leading the DES sustainability team, and for this project I'm trying to put everybody together, get the teams together to look at ways that we can, really looking at a different way to do life science building that have reduced the embodied carbon, you know, really have a positive impact of the of the project. So that's what I'm doing working with the team here.

CCB: [00:02:13] That's fantastic. So, when I look at your report, I see a large number of team members contributed to this particular project. So how about Tom, if you would start and give us an overview of kind of the topic title and explain all the members of the team that contributed?

Tom Parrish: [00:02:34] Wow. I'm not even sure I know the complete topic. Kenny, what is our complete topic title?

Kenny Hung: [00:02:41) Well, our computer topic title is reducing embodied carbon in live science buildings through mass timber, that's our research thesis. And we are definitely we have a really big team working on this. Tom, you want to talk about it?

Tom Parrish: [00:02:59] Yeah, Yeah, sure. So again, you know, I kind of had this concept that I thought could provide for a very stiff high performance floor that would work really well in life science buildings, so. On the structural side, I think we wanted to prove that, to validate that. So, one of the big issues in in life science is vibration performance, and turned out to be a really big can of worms trying to make sure that what we were proposing provided the same level of performance as steel and concrete buildings out there.


CCB: [00:03:40] So I want to stop you for a minute and say, DES does a lot of work with life science. And so you have accumulated knowledge and experience and expertise in what the requirements are. So, when you say that the floor vibrations, everybody might not understand why exactly that's so much…

Tom Parrish: [00:04:06] Sure, sure. Yeah. Life science buildings are, have very specific requirements in terms of for vibration performance, mechanical systems, etc. that I obviously not going to get into here, but it's a more demanding building type. So, to design a timber structure in particular that meets the requirements of that more demanding building type, you know, is a real challenge and so we had this idea for a system that we really felt would address these challenges. So my team. Amy Doman on my team in particular, really did a lot of work trying to understand floor performance, vibration performance and all of those criteria, so we could make sure that what we're proposing is really going to be something that a developer or an end user will want to build, want to use and be comfortable in.

CCB: [00:05:17] And can see the benefits that that construction methodology brings from a sustainability standpoint, you go into great detail in identifying what those are overall.

Kenny Hung: [00:05:30] Right. Yeah, yeah, I think we are a team with working with Reema Nagpal another sustainability leader in the office, so we're looking at this exciting concept is interesting idea of using mass timber. What, how can we work with it. And validate the benefits of it over some of the conventional structural systems that we know of, like steel and concrete? You know, we have looked at other research, other papers for other building types like office buildings, there's a substantial reduction in terms of using mass timber as a structural material which are lighter weight, that is a natural material that can store and sequester carbon embodied carbon. So we are very interested in this idea, working with Tom, our architectural team and life science team, to really try to take this concept and looking at different ideas and try to demonstrate through a hypothetical building design to showcase all this thing can really work, can have the curb appeal, can have the equivalent performance. And obviously we look at a lot of the analysis of the embodied carbon content, the manufacturing process, the extraction process, you know, one of the things that we found out, you know, compared with concrete as a baseline study, we know that using mass timber we substantially save, reduce the amount of embodied carbon by roughly like in the range of 70%. So that's that's a really an interesting finding.

Go ahead.

Tom Oh, I was going to say just and one of the things we also did on the structural side is so Kenny could really and his team could really go do that quantitative analysis of the benefits. You know, we created all of these baseline structures using the exact same criteria, same base sizes and performance criteria. So we could really get an apples to apples comparison of what the benefits of this system are.

CCB [00:07:35] And again, I will say to all of our listeners, all of this is in the research report and you can see the drawings and the details, and the research that's related to it. One of the things that I thought was really lovely, because we end up being .. taking nothing away from structural or architectural but, the experience inside the building of the user is something that's very important to the One Workplace team and the thoughtfulness of how the mass timber incorporates into the experience and the biophilic kind of design was extremely well articulated, I think. Kenny, you want to talk about that a little bit?

Kenny Hung: [00:08:22] Yeah, Yeah. I think, you know, we focused, like I said, we focused on all the aspects of trying to put this project together, looking at these things. And obviously biophilic design, daylighting, you know, really expressing the idea of using mass timber as an interior material as well, that again, saves a lot of interior finishes. That's one benefit. But the warmth and the materiality of the mass timber in a life science environment that we're trying to create a life saving medications and technology that helps save lives, that's important. And, you know, for the scientists just working on them. So we did spend a lot of time understanding using mass timber. What are the benefits such as the biophilic design ideas, you know, capturing the light is important. So, when we think about the design, we also want to think about how the inside are really responding to the outside climate influences. So, you can see in the research paper we can demonstrate, hey, how this mass timber project really responds to all these different external factors and how that would impact create a healthier, a better experience, a space for the for the scientists to be there.

CCB: [00:09:42] Um. The in the research paper there are, as I say, all the drawings. And Tom, you must have been excited getting to show the prototypical building of your dreams.

Tom Parrish: [00:09:54] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this was because I doodle a lot. So, I have all of these ideas rattling around in my head. And, you know, I think to myself a lot, wow, this might have some real benefit, but I don't know what to do with it. So, it was a real nice opportunity. When Kenny and I talk often about how we might do things better, and it was a real great opportunity when the ONEder Grant came up and Kenny and I kind of looked at each other and said, yeah, I think we could do something with this. So yeah, it. It's a really great opportunity to just put some innovative ideas out there and see if they stick.

Kenny Yeah, I mean, particularly and like Tom said, we're excited because we know that the theme for 2022 ONEder grant is about ESG, environmental, social and governance. And that's really what we are trying to do here. Think a better way to do buildings within types that we are familiar with, that we have knowledge with and how we can improve it. We can do it better. And that's the whole idea, exploring these different ideas and sharing the ideas to, you know, that's why we come up with this research topic.

CCB: [00:11:11] So within DES Architects and Engineers, there have been a number of people involved in the project, and I'm sure a lot of people understand kind of what you've been up to. And where do you see this, this output going? Have there been any conversations with potential end users or building owners? Do you have those “What if's”, kind of do you get the opportunity?

Tom Parrish: [00:11:39] We've certainly thought about it. I mean, I think. You know, when we talk about who ultimately, you know, what our ultimate goal is here, it is really to, you know, take an innovative idea. And when we talk to a client or when any engineer talks to a client, be able to say, yes, we can do a timber building and it's going to have the long bays you're used to, it's going to perform the way you're used to. It will give you everything and more that a steel or concrete building will get you. And yes, we think this is a right way to build a building. And to say that with confidence, because, you know, right now you don't see timber buildings out there because. you know, they're typically shorter spans, huge beams, taller to floor to floor heights. And most developers and even end users are not really going to going to contemplate that, unless they're absolutely sure that they're going to get everything they can in a steel or concrete building. So, I think, yeah, our goal is to get to the point where we can sit in front of a client and say, yes, we can give you a timber building that gives you everything you want and say that with confidence.

CCB: [00:13:07] I was going to ask the question, when you get into the specifics of life science buildings and what the requirements are, you get into that lab area, you know, smaller or larger, depending on who the client is and what the activity is, and how how do you manage the requirements inside the labs with the mass timber? What is there any additional requirements?

Tom Parrish: [00:13:37] I'll talk. I'll talk and then hand off to Kenny. We did we did sit. David Hronek, who you see in our on our list of contributors, is one of our lab planners. And so we spent quite a bit of time kind of going through what a lab setup might look like, what utilities are required, how they would be routed, how ducts would be routed, what, you know, and really make sure that a lab, a real lab, life science lab would work in this building and work well. And that did require some adjustment of the of the structural design. Yes, we ended up making the beams narrower and deeper and kind of still stay within that zone where it was really comparable to steel and concrete buildings. But yeah, there was a lot of meetings with other members of the team to really make sure that this really worked with a real building. And then it went on to Kenny and his team with the prototype.


Yeah, no, I think that's exactly what we have done. You know, it's really thinking how this is, this mass timber concept is adaptable to different conditions in a real live life science situation. The different types of labs that you know, there are some labs that will require sort of enclosed ceiling that some of the labs could have less restrictive requirements that could have open ceilings so we can see the wood, the timber. So, I think the whole idea we would demonstrate is, yes, it could be working with all different certifications as much as we can try to show here. And then and, and I think that it is a very integral part of the research exercise, that how the effectiveness of applying this concept to the life science use.

CCB: [00:15:33] You guys have, you folks have very deep experience and relationships with the life science community in the Bay Area for sure. And I wonder how, what's the right word, accepting, or is that particular market to vertical market to innovation? One would think they would be. But on the other hand, there are so many restrictions. I just wonder, do you feel that level of confidence that there's going to be interest in moving in this direction?

Tom Parrish: [00:16:14] I think so as long, again, so we're very familiar with what life science tenants are looking for in buildings and what life science developers are looking for in buildings for curb appeal. So as long as we are, we can show that we can provide the same sort of open floor plans, same performance criteria, same flexibility with mechanical systems that a typical life science building would provide, I think the mass timber is only adding to the value.

CCB: [00:16:50] Yeah. What does it do to cost?

Tom Parrish: [00:16:55] We haven't really looked at cost in our in our research, but in terms of a typical mass timber approach, we are definitely saving material, floor to floor height. So, it's definitely this kind of innovation I think can bring mass, move mass timber in the right direction, so.

Kenny But for one thing, we're using mass timber as also interior material, interior finishes. That substantially saves a lot of the cost and the lighter weight too like Tom suggests would be helpful, I think, too, you know, thinking about mass timber application in life science. We know that again, life science is in demand, life science buildings and products are in demand across the country and especially in the Bay Area. And while there's a strong demand for life science buildings and products, there's a strong desire from both the users and also the developer side and the scientists, you know, for a more attractive, a more environmentally friendly, you know, building a lifestyle builder that really reduce all this impact or have a positive impact. So we see this is a great opportunity. This is the direction that people would like to see how it can flourish and it can be going to something really, really impactful.

CCB: [00:18:24] Yeah, I was going to like drop some little tidbits there, but I knew you would be able to articulate it because, we hear the same thing from life science, from our biotech life science clients, that they are committed to sustainability and better environmental impact and better approach to living and working. So it would seem that this would be kind of a slam dunk, if you will, in a bad sports analogy too, this could it just feels, I can hear the Genentech folks just kind of going, wow, that's very interesting. Was there anything surprising that you uncovered in your research, anything that you were not considering. That you had not thought of. And there doesn't have to be. Because you could have thought of everything.

Tom Parrish: [00:19:18] No, I think what really kind of surprised us is sort of how, what, how little the body of knowledge is in terms of in terms of timber building and how they work, how they perform. You know what the best way to build them is? You know, it i really is sort of a, you know, sort of in its infancy in many ways. So, it was really kind of a surprise that we've been building with timber for thousands of years, but there's still so much we don't know about how these buildings really work. So, I think that was, that was kind of it was kind of a surprise to me how much effort and research it really took to kind of understand how these things really worked.

Kenny Hung: [00:20:16]I’m on the same page of Tom. I think that's there’s so much more to learn and explore and research, especially when we're on a real project. I mean, for example, you know, thinking about getting into more sustainability aspect, you know, creating a more better, adaptive, you know, well thought out kind of life science building. There's so much more we can think about research on, for example, like the facade materials, you know, we know mass timber that could maybe have a faster construction schedule and all that get put together. But we also thinking about, you know, not just the interior, but also exterior. What about the facade material finishes that could be part of this mass timber building package, if you will, so that we can think about this holistically. So, I think that's so much more that we can explore with this mass timber, the life science building research and opportunity.

CCB: [00:21:14] The prototype, the image of the complete building from the exterior in the research is absolutely beautiful. And I was reminded of, it's kind of interesting in I worked in a lot of European projects in a previous life and the nature of daylighting and how the buildings are actually smaller in floor plate because they want to access everything. And it looks more similar to some, to one of those types of buildings because it's so much kinder to the inhabitants with the accessibility to natural light and to whatever the exterior environment is. Which we know has positive impact on people's wellbeing, but also on productivity. So, it's a lovely, lovely, that's a silly word to use. The building itself is lovely, but the research is so in depth it's really impressive. So, I want to give you huge kudos. We've already talked about where you think this might go. Do you have any other thoughts on how you might share the information so that all the research that you did benefits larger quantities of with this going to. Will this be presented anywhere? Because it feels like it's one of those kind of research projects.

Tom Parrish: [00:22:37] You know, certainly we're presenting it internally next week for you know, all of our architectural friends to think about that. And there are certainly others in the industry and clients that we’ll you know show and but I think bigger, you know. To me, it's really sort of this innovative approach.Iinnovative is not the right word. Integrated, you know, thinking about building structure, thinking about building systems and thinking about how they all work together when you're designing a building. To me, that's. If there's a message I want to get out there it’s that that has real benefits if and that's really a necessary part of how we need to design buildings if we really want to achieve the kind of sustainability goals we're after. I think that if there's a big message, that's the one I want out there.

Kenny Hung [00:23:44] I really think that, you know, this is really just a showcase how integrated the design process that needs to happen. You know, obviously, yes, we've been doing it, but it's really this integrated team that everybody got together to figure out this problem, and how we can do it better. And we can showcase that we can actually do it better with this project. I think that's an important message that we're going to share with our clients. You know, we're always looking at things that like, as we mentioned, that became the core, integrating design and sustainability and takes everybody's effort and participation to do it.

CCB: [00:24:22] Well, I want to say we're delighted with having given the ESG umbrella out as the topic theme for this year's, or for the 2022 ONEder grants, because the thoughtfulness of each one of the Grant awards is; it will make strides forward. Each one of the projects are making a huge contribution to the way that people are thinking and integrating. To your both of your point, the nature of the sustainability environmentally aware building in, from the very beginning. Let's stop and think about that. Let's incorporate that in a much more intentional way. So that people are bringing the nature of belonging and the nature of of well-being so much more specifically forward. It's really lovely to see. So, I'm going to say thank you again, Kenny and Tom from Des Architects and Engineers for spending this time with us. For everyone listening, the ONEder Grant web page will have an abstract, a single page abstract, if you'd like to look at it. There's about a 30 page report that's got great, beautiful drawings. I'm going to say that. Great, beautiful drawings and an enormous amount of the research information. And we will have a presentation at the end of March where people are each one of the teams is going to have a five minute opportunity to just kind of give the overview. And we are delighted that you have participated this year.

Tom Parrish: [00:26:07] Well, thank you very much for the opportunity. Really appreciate it.

Kenny Hung [00:26:11] Well, thank you CCB. Really appreciate that.

CCB: [00:26:14] Yep. It's been our pleasure. I have to say that. So, thank you very much. And I'm going to sign off. Bye bye.

Tom Parrish: [00:26:21] Bye. All right.