Picture courtesy of Katerra

The project that helped rethink DC’s building code

The 80M project was conceived as a 100,000 ft2 addition to an existing 7 story concrete building located at 80 M St. SE, Washington DC. The vertical extension aimed to add two floors, a penthouse and a roof terrace for offices and leisure spaces. But what Columbia Property Trust, the developer behind 80M, never imagined was that this building was going to transform Washington DC’s building code in favor of more high-rise Mass Timber buildings.

While commercial developers in Canada, China, UK and most of Europe have embraced tall timber construction, the US seem to have fallen behind. We could attribute this mainly to building code restrictions and un-revised regulations that don’t particularly favor tall wood buildings and vary greatly from state to state and in different jurisdictions. We could also argue that even eco-conscious developers back out from using Mass Timber due to the lack of federal, state and local policies that might subsidy or incentivize its use.

Moreover, as early as in the concept design stage, a lot of Mass Timber projects in the US are hindered due to building authority’s reluctance or skepticism regarding the fire-resistant properties of wood and a lack of understanding of how engineered wood can be applied to meet fire safety ratings requirements.

The good news is that even with all these great obstacles 80M was able to come to fruition. It required a team of forward-thinking visionaries and innovators ranging from investors, developers, architects, engineers, design assist partners and government decision-makers to get the gears of this policy changing machine moving. It also required the help of publications, like the 2021 International Building Code (IBC) and its provision for new tall timber constructions, to lay the foundation and pave the road in which more buildings like this will hopefully follow.

First Mass Timber building in Washington DC is a project of IAAC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia developed at Master in Mass Timber Design in 2021/2022 by student: Nataly Dirocie and faculty: Daniel IbanezCourseMMTD01 – Narratives