PORTLAND - If the vast potential of timber construction isn't obvious, a new exhibit at Washington D.C.'s National Building Museum aims to clear things up. Running through May 2017, the USDA-sponsored Timber City is drawing attention to the recent boom in a worldwide movement toward timber construction.

It's opening up a new market that has been turning the mills at a growing number of wood products companies, including Montreal's Nordic StructuresSauter Timber in Rockwood, Tennessee, and D.R. Johnson.

Oregon-based D.R. Johnson Wood Innovations, a subsidiary of D.R. Johnson, specializes in the manufacture of cross-laminated timber (CLT) and glue-laminated beams from Douglas fir and Alaskan yellow cedar. They're the first U.S. company to receive APA/ANSI certification to manufacture structural CLT panels - and they hope to help grow the U.S. market .

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Oregon manufacturer first to be CLT certified

D.R. Johnson has received the first U.S. certification to manufacture cross-laminated timbers (CLT) under a new standard approved last year by the American National Standards Institute.


D.R. Johnson is one of only three North American companies certified by the Engineered Wood Association to construct CLT for use in buildings. The company employs 125 at a traditional sawmill and laminating plant, which was recently expanded by 13,000 square feet for increased CLT production. They're currently fielding calls from hopeful builders, and manufacturing samples to be tested for fire safety and structural quality.

D.R. Johnson says the system for constructing CLT involves assembling prefabricated parts, speeding construction, and paring labor costs. The company partnered with wood processor manufacturer USNR to build a custom panel press for CLT.

Advocates of CLT say it can be used to construct buildings of equal strength and fire-resistance as those made of steel and concrete. It has also fueled the passions of architects and environmentalists, who believe it to be a much greener method for housing the world's growing population.  

Photo: D.R. Johnson

Due to its benefits for carbon capture and reduced CO2 emissions in construction, CLT has sparked interest worldwide. Proposals for new projects include a 100-story tower in London, a 40-story building in Stockholm, and a residential complex in Vancouver.  An 18-story CLT wood structure, a student residence at the University of British Columbia, is nearing completion.

The National Building Museum's Timber City exhibit hopes to challenge the notion that wood is an antiquated building material. The exhibit will feature an immersive installation with numerous architectural models, which include prefabricated wood walls and large-scale samples of mass timber. Timber City will demonstrate the many advantages offered by timber construction, including strength, fire resistance, sustainability, and beauty. 

The museum says CLT is the only building material can reduce carbon emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere.