Hot Tips (Sustainable Construction)

Building With Wood

Designing and building with wood provides a solution to some of the common challenges that come with education building projects—from tight timelines and limited budgets to stringent safety requirements and high standards for sustainability. Schools are placing a premium on organic materials, sustainability, and brighter, more flexible, open-layout interiors—all areas where wood construction thrives.

At the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, wood saved $15 per square foot on one student housing project, Spartan Village Phase I, compared to a metal and concrete alternative. Designed by Lord, Aeck Sargent, the 385,000-square-foot building provides 800 new student beds while creating a new neighborhood that sets the tone for future mixed-use developments.

Wood also offers several advantages where student housing is being added to existing neighborhoods. Multi-story wood structures meet residential code requirements and adhere to required safety and structural performance guidelines for urban infill buildings. Plus, infill real estate often carries a premium price, so the economic advantage gained by building multiple stories of wood over a podium-type structure may be the only way a project can work financially.

At the same time, educational institutions are increasingly using mixed-use projects to add vital businesses to surrounding neighborhoods. At the University of Washington, Mahlum Architects made the most of the urban Seattle location for a five-building project known as West Campus Student Housing – Phase 1, designing each building with five stories of wood-frame construction over a two-story concrete podium. Constructed for $177 per square foot, the award-winning development includes ground-floor amenities such as a grocery store, conference center, and fitness center.

Think Wood is an initiative of the Softwood Lumber Board that provides guidance to ensure safe, predictable, and economical use of softwood lumber in multi-family and non-residential building applications. To learn more, visit

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management March 2018 issue of Spaces4Learning.