In the construction and architecture industries, mass-timber design has recently become a substantial force in the push toward a sustainable and practical future. Through the Sustainable Versatility competition, the proposed design of the Mississippi State University ExO – Education X Opportunity – has allowed for heavy timber in architecture to be pushed one step further. Among the hypothetical 10-acre site created for this project, the topic of mass-timber is channeled through three specific opportunities in which the resource can drive the industry: Innovation, Education, and Outreach.
Opportunity in Innovation – The exoskeleton-like structure of the ExO building pushes the boundaries of what mass-timber is thought to be capable of. Two rows of glue-lam columns line the sides, spanned laterally by arched glue-lam beams, working to deflect the weight of CLT floors, down into the legs of the structure. With an innovative form so bold, the building is immediately eye catching, expressive and proud of its wood structure. And although the exposed wood will require some more extensive sealing and protective care, the very real ability for mass timber buildings to withstand the elements is a stigma that the industry needs to disprove in order to become a more widely used material.
Due to the large site, there are also multiple opportunities for innovative sustainable practices to be implemented. Gravel parking offers a permeable alternative to asphalt allowing existing trees to remain, draining rainwater, and reducing the heat island effect. And because of the large site area, ample room to employ a ground-source heat pump system can work to efficiently heat and cool the building using conduction and convection through the earth.
Opportunity in Outreach – In the state of Mississippi, the timber industry represents approximately 5% of total income-producing jobs in the state (almost 70,000), and accounts for roughly $3.4 billion in wages paid out yearly. And along the eastern coast, similar numbers support millions of Americans and their families yearly. Through educational programs and competitions like this, the end-goal is to raise awareness in the capabilities of timber, create more jobs, and support more American families with this natural resource. Throughout the site, multi-use spaces such as the walking paths, auditorium, and outdoor amphitheater have been added in order to increase traffic to the site via people who would not typically be exposed to heavy-timber architecture.
Opportunity in Education – Being that the main purposed of the MSU ExO is to serve as an architecture education facility, the building contains all of the designated areas as typically required by a program. The building’s plan has been carefully laid out to include amenities such as an architectural library, presentation galleries, administrative offices, outdoor pavilions, expansive student studio spaces, and even a wood shop. But the educational purposed aren’t confined to just the students. At the north end of the site, an area of land is proposed for a clear-cut in four sections to be planted at five-year intervals, in order to offer as a simulation of how timber is grown and maintained effectively.