Lowering Embodied Carbon Through Biobased Design: The Challenges to Planning a Mass Timber Lab

Diane Hamlin, HDR
Thomas Knittel, HDR

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report made abundantly clear we need to do everything possible to reduce or eliminate carbon in our built environment. However stark the need--the devil is always in the details--and the implementation of some of our best renewable building materials to lower embodied carbon and create a restorative campus is often met with challenges, doubts and funding issues.

This session explores the current challenges surrounding mass timber development, including supply chain and schedule risks due to availability, concern for sustainable sourcing, construction industry familiarity, and coordination issues. Through a case study of the visioning and concept design process at the ARS/WSU Plant Biosciences Research Building, we discuss how these potential challenges can be overcome and share some of the strategies used to assure that our best laid plans are carried into further design development phases.

Finally, we look at the specific concerns around incorporating mass timber into a lab, with its stringent technical requirements, equipment demands and environmental controls. In addition, the desire for the project to be connected to an existing lab building requires additional considerations. The discussion will include an overview of the federal and specifically USDA regulations that promote the use of mass timber in new buildings.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain how mass timber lowers embodied carbon and can be a key building material to address climate change;
  • Articulate the current challenges surrounding mass timber development and mitigation strategies;
  • Identify concerns of utilizing mass timber in a research environment; and
  • Describe federal and specifically USDA regulations that help promote the use of mass timber.


A detail-oriented project principal and dedicated client advocate, Diane approaches each project with imagination, foresight, and a high standard of execution. Diane specializes in complex research and education facilities and with a passion for sustainability is always looking for opportunities to improve the impact of our built environment.

Tom is HDR's design director for sustainability He actively leads the design direction of projects and our global efforts on low-carbon solutions. His current mass timber projects on the U.S. West Coast and Asia use our carbon-balancing methodology, targeting net-zero emitted carbon on day-one for structure, core and shell.


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