Exciting news from Hale County: the Breathing Wall Mass Timber Research Project (BWMT) test building construction is complete! Last week Fergie and Preston finalized the construction of two mass timber test buildings on Rural Studio’s campus. These test buildings will be used in the future for research on the breathing wall, thermal mass, and mass timber. The team is also in the peer review process for their scientific paper on their small-scale experiments. It’s been a busy two years!
As a quick update, these two mass timber buildings are the result of two years of design and experimentation on mass timber systems and their potential integration with breathing wall technology. The floors, walls, and ceilings are all dry-stacked timber compressed with threaded rods to ensure an air-tight envelope. All of the steel components were designed and fabricated to facilitate the BWMT experiment: a steel roof acts an umbrella to protect against solar radiation and wind-driven rain; doors are hung from the top on the exterior to adjust to expanding timber; and steel plates and angles spread pressure from the threaded rods evenly through the timber. On the interior, flexible loft spaces are accompanied by fabricated railings and ladders, with a simple conduit carrying all electrical and lighting. The entire project was designed with flexibility in mind, so they can be used for future experimentation. The goal isn’t that these buildings are precious, but that they’re useful.
The past two years have definitely been a learning experience – doing scientific research at an architecture school was difficult at times, but the tension between the two really propelled the team and the project. The team learned to leverage the scientific aspect to inform their architectural decisions and to use their architectural knowledge to keep the research grounded. In the end, the design was stronger because it was backed by actual research; science and architecture can and should go together.
The team would like to thank the many reviewers and supporters who helped further this project for the past two years. Thank you to the Rural Studio faculty and staff, particularly Andrew Freear and Steve Long. Thank you to all who donated gifts, materials, and time. Thank you to the team’s studiomates, friends, and family for the constant support. Thank you to the Newbern community for welcoming the team in and taking them under their wings. And huge thank you to Salmaan Craig and Kiel Moe at McGill University and David Kennedy at Auburn University who volunteered their time each week to invest in and further this research.
Rural Studio is a place filled with magic and the team was extremely thankful to have been a small part of it for the past two years. The team served not only as students but community members, scientists, buildings, chefs, and farmers (to name a few.) They gained an understanding of the importance of being a part of the place and the community. All four team members are committed to taking what was learned in and out of the classroom forward with them as they move on from Hale County.
As for the team, Jake has been in New Orleans researching mass timber as a Research Fellow for Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. Anna is pursuing her PhD at McGill University furthering the study of the Breathing Wall. Fergie and Preston are moving to the mountains of Colorado to chase some design-build dreams. The team looks forward to the many visits back to Hale County and Rural Studio. That’s a wrap!
Not leaving Hale forever,
The Mass Breathers
Soundtrack: The Final Countdown | Europe