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In heart of North Loop, T3 becomes an architectural attraction


By: Nicole Norfleet of Star Tribune, January 21, 2017 3:01pm

The North Loop’s makeover in the past 20 years has given new life to brick-and-timber warehouses that once housed factories, car and implement dealers and even a macaroni maker.

Now, a distinctive new office building made from wood has opened, a development that sets the North Loop apart from other urban neighborhoods around the country that have gone through such a renaissance.

Billed as the largest “mass timber” building in the United States, the seven-story structure called T3 shows that cities don’t have to be dominated by structures of steel and concrete. Its progress has been followed by architects and developers.

“We got away from wood for awhile for various reasons, and I think architects and engineers and developers have recognized the potential, and some of the new technology does make it a little bit easier to build,” said Archie Landreman, regional director for nonprofit WoodWorks, which promotes wood construction of commercial buildings and advised Houston-based Hines, T3’s developer.

“Mass timber” describes a framing style that uses smaller pieces of wood formed into large panels for floors, roofs and walls. It differs from the light-frame wood construction of many homes.

It can be easy to miss the T3 building tucked behind an upscale apartment complex and a strip club along Washington Avenue. But as soon as someone enters the space, it is hard to miss its singularity.

The building smells like wood mixed with a whiff of a new car. The lobby has all the modern furniture of other office suites, but it gives off the aura of a lodge.

T3, which stands for “timber, transit, technology,” recently received one of its first affirmations when Amazon.com Inc. signed on to lease office space. The company has said it eventually will employ 100 workers in Minneapolis.

Already, the building is home to a fitness studio for Bar Method Minneapolis, a fitness chain whose workouts include dance conditioning techniques. In addition, a restaurant tenant also has plans to debut a new concept at the space.

“Heavy timber structures have a long history in warehouse construction, so the new T3 building is a great fit in the North Loop,” said Nick Koch, an associate vice president at HGA Architects and Engineers and a chairman of neighborhood development group 2020 Partners.

While brick-and-timber buildings have become a popular choice for creative offices, noise and draftiness can be problems.

“We just decided to create something that had the same authenticity and feel [of a brick-and-timber building] … but all of the modern amenities and creature comforts of new construction,” said Brent Robertson, managing director of the office-agency division for JLL, which is responsible for leasing T3.

The building offers Wi-Fi in its public spaces including the rooftop deck. In addition, T3 has fully embraced its location on the Cedar Lake Trail. It has bike rentals, bike storage and a bike repair station.

The 220,000-square-foot building was constructed with 8-foot-by-20-foot panels of engineered wood that were stacked across beams of glued, laminated timber. The panels themselves consisted of smaller strips of wood nailed together.

Concrete still is used in some areas of the building, including the entire first floor. Weathered steel wraps the outside to protect it from the elements.

Mass timber structures are significantly lighter than their steel and concrete equivalents so it takes less time to erect them. Builders needed less than three months to install the timber frame of T3. The dead load or weight of the building also ends up being lower.

“As the only structural material that comes from a renewable resource, the sustainability, the aesthetic and the authenticity of the material make it a natural to be used more frequently in commercial applications,” said Bob Pfefferle, director of Hines Minneapolis.

Another positive is that building with wood is believed to use less energy than building with other materials, Landreman said. The wood also naturally helps store carbon. The 3,600 cubic meters of wood that was used in the building will end up sequestering about 3,200 tons of carbon for the life of the building. Most of the wood was made of lumber from trees killed by the mountain pine beetle.

Designers and developers found a sweet spot with the T3 building with its relatively simple design and moderately tall height that easily can be replicated, said Jacob Mans, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Architecture, who is studying Minnesota-made mass timber systems.

“There’s just a lot of smart things in that building,” he said. “I think you will see this building type show up a lot more when you are trying to develop a lot of building footprint in a short period of time.”

Wood buildings are perceived to be more vulnerable to fire but that’s because many people don’t understand mass timber, Mans said.

Mass timber construction might actually perform better in a fire than noncombustible materials because the wood is thick and solid and chars at a slower and more predictable rate. Wood buildings also have been shown to perform well in earthquakes.

Hines has plans to start construction later this year of a similar T3 building in Atlanta. There also have been discussions about an 80-story timber tower in Chicago.

In Minnesota and many other states, office buildings are allowed currently to have up to six floors of wood. But for many architects, the sky is the limit for the potential of wooden buildings.

“It’s mostly a code issue and the public accepting being in a tall wood building,” Mans said.

T3 will inspire confidence for developers to keep building with wood, said Kate Simonen, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Washington.

“The T3 project is already influential in that the project team has demonstrated a viable construction model,” she wrote in an e-mail. “The construction industry is notoriously risk-adverse. Early adopters, especially those that share information about the project success and challenges, can have a big impact on the industry.”