Pennsylvania has been doing its part to help the country reach its goals by using more sustainable building methods for a new, large-scale Philadelphia-based building project: the University of Pennsylvania’s Amy Gutmann Hall, a six-story project that is being built through mass timber construction. With this method, buildings are constructed using large, engineered wood panels prefabricated off-site.
This wood has less embodied carbon than concrete or steel, the production of which is responsible for a significant amount of global greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Construction and real estate company Gilbane has taken the lead on the build while Lake Flato and KSS Architects are working together on the design of Amy Gutmann Hall. Additionally, the Philadelphia branch of Eastern Atlantic States Carpenters Technical College has been coordinating with Gilbane to provide educational opportunities for union carpenters looking to get involved in mass timber construction.
Gilbane construction executive Jim Brown said that the Amy Gutmann Hall project is the first of its kind for Philadelphia and will be beneficial in helping UPenn reach its target of going carbon-free by 2042.
“Even though mass timber construction is widely used in other regions, it’s new for Philadelphia, and UPenn was looking at this being cutting-edge for the area,” Brown said. “It has many environmental benefits, with one being its lower carbon footprint as compared to steel and concrete.”
EAS Carpenters Technical College Training Director Robert Landy said using mass timber requires less building time, as a majority of the fabrication happens off-site before construction begins.
“It requires fewer man hours in the field and a faster build because it consists of 90% pre-planning and 10% building,” Landy said. “The erection process takes about three to four months, which is a quick turnaround time to bring a building out of the ground.”
He added that another feature that makes mass timber construction so appealing is its durability, especially against fire.
“Steel would warp and bend, but using mass timber would be like putting a large log in a fire,” Landy said. “It would just char the outside, but the log itself wouldn’t really burn. The mass timber in this project should have some of the same characteristics.”
For union carpenters who want to learn more about the benefits of mass timber and eventually get involved, EAS Carpenters Technical College in Philadelphia offers a 24-hour training class for Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters journeymen.
The class — which can be spread out over nights and weekends — offers instruction on rigging and signaling, and creating a mock-up of a mass timber building. Union carpenters need to have a qualification in order to work on mass timber projects, which the class can provide.
Landy said that EAS Carpenters Technical College has been in regular communication with Gilbane as well as union representatives in Philadelphia to discuss how union carpenters can both help and receive the right training for the job.
Gilbane Senior General Superintendent Kyle Yeager said the project has been a rewarding experience, particularly since it has provided the opportunity for the company to work with qualified carpenters.
“This project has been an exciting opportunity for us, and we want to make great products for UPenn,” Yeager said. “We hope that the success of the project produces more work throughout Philadelphia and its mass timber market. The carpenters are helping us out through its great training, which is needed to work on the project.
Landy is not only optimistic about the end result of the project, but also about how the construction industry can continue to embrace sustainable alternatives like mass timber.
“Once this building is up, it’s going to look spectacular, and the fact that one of the most prestigious universities in the country is doing a mass timber project is something that could take off,” Landy said. “Given the speed of the build, the cost-effectiveness and the look of it, I think that, unlike the timber, these projects are going to catch a lot of fire.”
This article was produced in collaboration between Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.