This studio was focused on innovative uses of mass timber structural materials and systems in schools and explored the design of modular classrooms and larger programmatic elements. While there is potential for mass timber to be used for the mass production of modular units, in order for these units to be cost competitive they need to replace construction of steel and concrete rather than wood stick frame. While modular mass timber housing construction has had some success in Europe, construction standards and building culture in the United States are very different. With few areas in Oregon in which housing is likely to be built over six stories tall or in large-scale developments, we thought that mass timber panels, which are so well-suited to customizable pre-fabrication through digital manufacturing, could find an alternative economically feasible venue in school construction.
The studio took on the challenge of designing mass timber modular schools in spring 2018. In order to focus on the design and application of the modular classrooms, instead of the typical studio approach, where students are given a site and a program and asked to design a project from "scratch," two recently completed elementary schools in Eugene, OR were chosen as the starting points for the modular schools: River Road/El Camino del Rio Elementary School and Howard Elementary School, both designed by Pivot Architecture with DOWA-IBI Group and completed in 2017. Students were asked to take the site plans for these schools as a given and to adapt them for modular mass timber school construction.
Students worked in teams of two and first examined case studies of mass timber schools. The teams were then asked to design several types of mass timber modules, both square and rectangular, divided into two or three sections, within maximum dimensions for shipping by truck, and using the standard sizes of CLT and MPP panels made in Oregon. They were tasked with using the panels as efficiently as possible and to design modules that were structurally stable in a seismic zone and that maximized daylight. The teams were then asked to choose one of their modules to apply to one of the two existing schools and to redesign the other program areas, including gymnasium, cafeteria and media center, with mass timber construction that could be prefabricated and flat-packed.
The studio had expert consulting on mass timber structural systems by Professor Mikhail Gershfeld, from the Department of Civil Engineering at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, who visited the studio several times over the term. Faculty members Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, Jeffrey Kline and Alen Mahic from the Department of Architecture's Energy Studies in Building Laboratory consulted on daylighting and worked with students to perform daylighting simulations using the lab's artificial sky. Scott Clarke and Karen Williams of Pivot Architecture provided their insights on school design in general and on the specific designs of the River Road/El Camino del Rio and Howard schools they had designed.Three teams chose to work on the River Road/El Camino del Rio school site and four on the Howard school site; two teams chose CLT for their modules and five chose to work with MPP. The seven teams produced a variety of designs in two and three stories, demonstrating the potential of the mass timber modules to make attractive, healthy and resilient schools.