GRANT WINNER | HOUSING CONSTRUCTION

Forterra NW

Washington State

Forterra’s Prototype for Modular Cross-Laminated Timber brings together tribes, communities of color, forest conservationists, architects and more to re-engineer the affordable housing supply chain. Propelled by community engagement, the new building system promotes responsibly harvested forests. It promises to radically lower the cost of construction, create needed rural jobs and mitigate the dangers of climate change.

Image of mass wood structure

Forterra is a Washington-based nonprofit that enhances, supports and stewards the region’s most precious resources — its communities and its ecosystems. Forterra conserves land, develops innovative policies, and supports sustainable rural and urban development.

In its 30-year history, Forterra has helped conserve more than 250,000 acres. Its work stretches from the farmlands and river canyons of Yakima to the estuaries and forests of Washington’s coastline, reaching more than 100 counties, cities, and towns.

A woman staring out of the window while a little boy plays in the background

THE CHALLENGE

Construction innovation has stalled for over a century. Fossil fuels are burned to manufacture concrete and steel, in the interest of buildings that few can afford. The system is reliant on importation, emissions and cost escalation.

Through modular cross-laminated timber (CLT), Forterra dares us to imagine a future forest-to-home continuum where sustainably managed forests absorb our carbon, are responsibly harvested, and made into long-lasting, durable modules that fit together. Modular CLT is safer, more cost certain and more scalable than any other technology available today.

Forterra’s challenge is to convert an older supply chain into a newer one, proving that it is in everybody’s interest to innovate. 

SOLUTION: PROTOTYPING MODULAR CROSS-LAMINATED TIMBER

Forterra capitalized two social impact funds to purchase enough land to build 1,500 attainable housing units using a standardized modular CLT chassis that the coalition developed over the past three years. The large wood panels, up to 14 feet by 60 feet, are big enough to create the entire floor plate for a one-, two- or three-bedroom apartment. The panels are more cost-certain and scalable than any other technology currently available, according to Forterra. The coalition is working on a per-module cost that will be 40% of market price.

“We are mayors, we are engineers, we are tribes, we are investors, we are Black communities. We are immigrant communities.  We are here to build better housing together.“ 
― Victoria Woodards, Mayor of Tacoma, Washington

Forterra is using the modular CLT prototype initially for two developments that serve communities of color and focus on community-driven design and ownership.

The Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington, a historic Black community, has long been a target of redlining and disinvestment. Today, residents who have helped anchor and build their community face rapid displacement because of rising costs and lack of home and business ownership opportunities. Forterra is partnering with community-based organizations to complete a multi-year community engagement effort that will shape the redevelopment of an entire city block on Hilltop.

Tukwila, Washington, has for decades welcomed refugees and immigrants from around the globe. A burgeoning community of Somali and East African refugees has called Tukwila home since the 1990s, fleeing civil war and refugee camps. As Tukwila grows, gentrification and displacement are rising forces. Forterra is supporting the community to create Wadajir (“together” in Somali), a mixed-use development that would provide commercial space for micro-businesses and family-sized housing units for purchase at attainable prices.

The coalition is also working with the Quinault Indian Nation to move their ancestral village above the rising seas of climate change. 

Partners:

  • Quinault Indian Nation
  • Abu Bakr Islamic Center
  • Fab-5
  • Mithun
  • Aspect Structural Engineers
Wadajir outdoor plaza

INTENDED RESULTS

Over the next two years, Forterra and a global group of architects; engineers; fire specialists; and mechanical, electrical and plumbing professionals will collaborate to complete an affordable modular CLT prototype, meeting all testing requirements for compliance with U.S. building codes.

Showcasing the prototype at five high-profile sites, including universities and central business districts, will pave the way toward making it part of the American supply chain. To prepare for that locally, Forterra has partnered with community colleges over the past five years to educate and train a corps of mass-timber technicians.

The prototype’s success promises regional and national replication, creating tens of thousands of attainable housing units each year. An open-innovation model will make Forterra’s designs and manufacturing methods freely available to builders and developers across the country.

Forterra believes the modular system has the potential to support responsibly harvested forests and conserve 100,000 acres of forest over the next five years.

 
Header photo courtesy of Pollux Chung