Skip to content

BSA News

Jan 12, 2023

2023: An Exciting Year of Innovating on Climate and Equity

MTA2022 Main Page 401 Chelsea Street

401 Chelsea Street by ThoughtCraft Architects, one of the 2022 Mass Timber Accelerator recipients.

A message from 2023 BSA President Andrea Love AIA and BSA Foundation Chair Bennet Heart

Happy New Year to everyone in the BSA community! We are excited to help lead the next phase of work related to the BSA’s championing of collaborative projects to address built environment climate and equity challenges. With last year’s IDEO strategy work and the Request for Innovations launch behind us, we are now turning our attention to the impact we can have.

Many of our colleagues have told us they are inspired by the BSA’s plans, though curious to know: what will innovation projects look like, how will they be structured, and what difference will they make to some of the societal issues we are facing?

To help address these questions, we are highlighting a program—the Boston Mass Timber Accelerator—on which the BSA is a lead partner. Launched in 2021, the ongoing accelerator is one of many projects in which the BSA is currently engaged and is exemplary of the kind of efforts the BSA will be working on in coming years. We hope this project will give you an idea of the exciting opportunities that lie ahead.

MTA 2021 Kickoff Photo By Paige Mc Whorter

Photo by Paige McWhorter.

Advancing mass timber, a Boston pilot

For several years, climate advocates in the region have been exploring ways to encourage the adoption of mass timber—an umbrella term for smaller lumber elements joined to form large, structural building panels, columns, and beams—in the design of tall buildings. These discussions, supported by research on the carbon reduction potential of mass timber conducted by the environmental solutions firm Olifant, highlighted the viability of our region to be a hub for mass timber. At the same time of these conversations, the City of Boston was advancing efforts to reduce building carbon emissions including Zero Net Carbon Building Zoning. Mass timber has the potential to reduce a building’s carbon footprint by 39-52 percent over conventional structural materials, such as steel and concrete.

In 2021, the City of Boston launched the Boston Mass Timber Accelerator, the first in the nation, with funding from the USDA Forest Service, the Softwood Lumber Board, and the ClimateWorks Foundation. According to John Dalzell, AIA LEED Fellow, Senior Architect for Sustainable Development at the Boston Planning & Development Agency, the task of the accelerator is to explore the feasibility of mass timber and the goal is to build large buildings with mass timber.

John reached out to the BSA to serve as lead partner on this program. He told us: “The BSA was the natural partner for the city – it is the voice of our community. It has the capacity and expertise to conduct these kinds of initiatives, and can work together, as a neutral party, with the stakeholders needed to explore new options such as mass timber.”

Resized for web DSC 0628 2

Lauren Shurtleff, former Director of Planning at Boston Planning & Development Agency, at the 2021 launch event for the Mass Timber Accelerator.

Photo by Paige McWhorter.

Accelerating Mass Timber in Boston

The accelerator solicited proposals from development projects in the early stages of design and selected seven projects in the first round, which were announced in the spring of 2022. Awardees received $25,000 to explore the feasibility of using mass timber in their projects, as well as technical assistance from WoodWorks, a nonprofit committed to advancing and supporting mass timber practices.

The BSA served as the facilitator and convenor of this work and lessons learned, by:

  • Organizing weekly roundtables for developer and architect grant recipients
  • Hosting a midpoint and final convening to discuss design considerations and carbon reduction findings
  • Offering several education sessions on building with mass timber
  • Organizing a tour of Boston’s first mass timber zero net carbon building, 11 E Lenox

Key findings to-date from this first round of projects include:

  • The potential for dramatically reducing carbon emissions through the use of mass timber is significant.
  • Constructing a building with mass timber is much faster than with steel or concrete.
  • The floor-to-floor height advantages of building with mass timber can lead to buildings with an additional floor. One of the accelerator projects delivered seven stories in under 70 feet.

As a result of the accelerator, a number of mass timber buildings are now under consideration by the award recipients, in locations ranging from East Boston to Dorchester and Roxbury.

MTA Eliot Church LWA

Eliot Church by Leers Weinzapfel Assoc. Architects.

Tom Chung, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, Principal at Leers Weinzapfel Associates and BSA member, whose firm’s proposal was one of the seven selected projects, told us that the seed funding and opportunity to collaborate with other partners were critical to his firm’s working on an accelerator project. “Until you have a blueprint of how to use mass timber, adoption of this practice—especially for affordable housing—will not happen. The accelerator helped us to create that blueprint,” said Tom. “The BSA has done a great job of pushing the boundaries, pushing architects toward more sustainable, equitable projects.”

The selection of round two Boston accelerator projects is expected shortly.

Expanding Practice to Three More Regions with Olifant

To expand the knowledge and use of mass timber nationally, the BSA is working with Olifant through a USDA Forest Service research grant to advance mass timber in three other regions of the country. Partners on this project include AIA Denver/Colorado, AIA Minneapolis/Minnesota, AIA Atlanta/Georgia and a Boston-based, nationally-recognized research team. This work will study the feasibility and carbon reduction potential of using mass timber in ubiquitous building types in each region and also produce regional forestry analyses to demonstrate the opportunity to use local wood and create manufacturing job opportunities. As in Boston, the studies will hopefully lead to accelerator programs in the participating cities.

As the BSA learns from these initiatives, it will continue to take a leadership role in convening parties to share ideas and learnings, host educational sessions, and partner with others on projects to further develop ideas and skills.

We hope this project overview gives you a window into the kind of collaborations that the BSA will undertake to foster innovative solutions to our climate and equity challenges. We are incredibly excited about the potential to have an impact on the critical issues of our time through the BSA’s leadership on projects like mass timber. If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the BSA at [email protected]. We encourage you to join the BSA in engaging on a project in upcoming years!

Best Regards,

Andrea Love AIA
2023 BSA/AIA President

Bennet Heart Esq.
2023 BSA Foundation Chair