GRANT WINNER | HOUSING CONSTRUCTION

Forterra NW

Washington State

Forterra’s Modular Cross-Laminated Timber prototype (Modular CLT) brings together a coalition of communities of color, tribes, land trusts, architects, engineers and more to re-engineer the affordable housing supply chain. Forterra seeks to radically lower the cost of construction, create rural jobs and address the impacts of climate change. Propelled by community engagement and guided by best practices in sustainability, the coalition is seeking to source 100% of its fiber from responsibly harvested forests.

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 in affordable housing has been slow since the 1970s. Fossil fuels are burned to manufacture concrete and steel for buildings that few can afford. The system is reliant on imports and contributes to emissions and cost escalation.

Through Modular CLT, Forterra imagines a future forest-to-home continuum where sustainably managed forests absorb our carbon and are harvested responsibly for the production of long-lasting, durable modules. Modular CLT can be more cost certain and more scalable than many other technologies available today.

Forterra’s challenge is to convert an older supply chain into a newer one, demonstrating that innovation is in everybody’s best interest. 

SOLUTION: PROTOTYPING MODULAR CROSS-LAMINATED TIMBER

Since 2016, Forterra has capitalized on its social impact fund, Strong Communities Fund, 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 CLT panels, up to 14 feet by 60 feet, are used to create the entire floor plate for a single module.

“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 will deploy the Modular CLT prototype initially for two developments that serve communities of color and focus on a community-driven design and ownership process.

The Hilltop neighborhood in Tacoma, Washington, a historic Black community, has long been a target of gentrification 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 multiyear 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, having fled civil war and refugee camps. As Tukwila grows, gentrification and displacement are rising forces. Forterra is supporting the community to create Wadajir (which means “together” in Somali), a mixed-use development that will provide commercial space for microbusinesses and family-sized housing units for purchase at attainable prices.

Coalition Partners:

  • Forterra
  • 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.

Forterra will showcase the prototype at five high-profile sites, including universities and central business districts, to build awareness and pave the way toward making it part of the American supply chain. In preparation for the mass production of the modules locally, Forterra is partnering with community colleges and other training centers to educate and ready a corps of mass-timber technicians.

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

The coalition partners believe Modular CLT has the potential to serve as a market pull for up to 100,000 acres of responsibly harvested forests over the next five years.

The Modular CLT coalition asks us to join in pursuit of community development, ownership and innovation.

 
Header photo courtesy of Pollux Chung