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Oregon rightfully earned its place as one of the greenest regions in the world years ago. A leader in architectural innovation and sustainability, Portland has the second highest number of LEED-accredited buildings in the United States and is recognized for its mix of groundbreaking and influential modern design and sustainable, eco-friendly architecture.

Perhaps most of all, Portland and its neighboring cities are known more recently for their use of mass timber as an alternative to steel and concrete. Known for its lighter environmental footprint and as an environmentally responsible building material, mass timber sequesters carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by storing carbon in the structure during the entire life of the building. It also promotes sustainable forest management practices.

The headquarters of the non-profit First Tech Federal Credit Union in Hillsboro is the latest groundbreaking project to join Oregon’s architecturally renowned landscape. Weeks ago, the final cross-laminated timber (CLT) panel was placed, completing the building’s structure and marking a significant milestone in mass timber architecture. At 156,000 square feet, the First Tech headquarters will be the largest CLT structure in the country, adding to a growing list of commercial buildings in Oregon to join the mass timber movement of recent years.

The decision to build such a large structure out of timber was born out of First Tech’s “people first” ethic. When doors open this summer, the building will support and promote the health, happiness, and comfort of the employees located there.

At 156,000 square feet, the First Tech Federal Credit Union headquarters will be the largest cross-laminated timber structure in the country. Photo: E. Van Rossen for Swinerton

The research

Swinerton Builders were brought onto the First Tech project by Portland-based architect, HACKER, who saw mass timber as a crucial part of the overall development strategy for the First Tech project. Emphasizing energy efficiency, indoor air quality, equal access to natural light, and the value of connecting people with nature, HACKER recognized the benefits of the building material from the beginning.

However, HACKER needed to optimize ways to integrate mass timber as the structural solution for this particular structure. To better understand how to leverage the value and strength of mass timber in this project, Swinerton committed to researching alternative structural scenarios that compared structural steel and nail-laminated timber (NLT) to CLT. Swinerton and HACKER were able to recommend CLT to the client for this project by unlocking several strengths of the CLT panels.

Running in both directions, Structurlam’s CrossLam CLT panels simplified the edge details of the building, were incorporated as the structural diaphragm of the building for earthquake stability, and provided a lighter overall structural system, obviating the need for costly ground improvements or deep foundations. Because of the precision with which the CLT panels can be fabricated, virtual design and construction could be leveraged to produce more than 4,500 mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) penetrations in the factory, reducing field time for follow-on trades.

After an in-depth research period, Swinerton’s core team took a trip to Canada, where more CLT projects had been completed. Their purpose was to gain a better understanding of constructability aspects and considerations for CLT and its installation. Swinerton focused its visit to Kelowna, Penticton, and Okanagan Falls on not only Structurlam’s facilities and detailing group, but also by visiting construction sites and meeting with general contractors familiar with CLT installation.

Swinerton Builders employed CrossLam CLT not only as a structural solution, but also as a path toward simplifying other building systems, such as the foundation and envelope. Photo: E. Van Rossen for Swinerton

The design

Following the research period, the Swinerton team partnered with Structurlam Products to harness the benefits of a glulam and CLT structure through a holistic approach to design and construction. Structurlam provided the design of concealed glulam connections and CLT horizontal diaphragms, as well as a fully fabricated mass timber package for the First Tech project.

With the First Tech project, Swinerton Builders identified and capitalized on the ripple effects of optimizing the building’s structure. Swinerton employed CrossLam CLT not only as a structural solution, but also as a path toward simplifying other building systems, such as the foundation and envelope. Through pre-planning and coordination, Structurlam implemented a shift toward a more “systems-oriented” construction process.

Swinerton managed and coordinated project partners through a fully integrated, virtual design and construction BIM model, which included the timber structure, the steel lateral systems, and the MEP services. At the Structurlam facility, glulam and CrossLam CLT were prefabricated for First Tech by CNC machines based on a fabrication-level 3D model. Like Lincoln Logs or Legos, the materials are pre-constructed to an exact fit, giving way for smarter utilization during the construction period.

In total, more than 626 CrossLam panels and 988 glulam columns and beams were delivered in 64 truckloads. Photo: E. Van Rossen for Swinerton

The installation

Upon completion of the design, 3D modeling, and shop drawings, the first glulam columns were delivered and installed on July 27. In total, 626+ CrossLam panels and 988+ glulam columns and beams were delivered in 64 truckloads. On Nov. 16, the final CrossLam panel was installed, completing the timber and steel frame of a 156,000-square-foot structure in 15 weeks. How did we manage to construct such a large structure in just 15 weeks? Through self-performing the construction process and using optimizable materials.

CrossLam CLT is manufactured to span in two directions, with strength in both major and minor axis directions. By optimizing the frame to be as efficient and light as possible, this allows us to cut down on heavier transport and installation time and costs. Detailed preconstruction planning also helped to ensure that the installation of CrossLam CLT was easy and efficient, simplifying the foundation system and making ground improvements in the foundation unnecessary.

A milestone project, First Tech Federal Credit Union is a shining example of the possibilities of building with mass timber and the associated benefits. In a time when eco-friendly buildings are not a luxury but a necessity, mass timber structures have drawn the world’s attention for their strength, light environmental footprint, and cutting-edge prefabrication technology.


Erica Spiritos, is a mass timber specialist with Structurlam (www.structurlam.com), and William P. Silva is preconstruction manager with Swinerton (www.swinerton.com).

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