The Growing Trend Toward Non-residential Wood Buildings


The Growing Trend Toward Non-residential Wood Buildings

by Patrick Schleisman

Wood has long dominated residential construction in the Carolinas, but its increasing share of the non-residential market is a relatively new trend, prompted by its low cost compared to other materials and growing recognition of both its environmental attributes and performance capabilities.

As might be expected in tough economic times, cost is the number one factor behind the choice of building materials—and this is helping to drive increased wood use both internationally and here at home.

A Greener Future

Environmentally, there is growing recognition that wood is the only major building material that’s renewable and sustainable over the long term, but it also has other benefits when considered over its life cycle—such as less air and water pollution, reduced embodied energy, and lower global warming potential.

In terms of climate change, most people know about the role of forests—that they help clean the air by removing carbon dioxide (CO2) and releasing oxygen—but many don’t realize that trees incorporate the absorbed carbon into their wood, and products made from that wood, such as lumber, continue to store the carbon indefinitely.

Growing trees add a new ring of wood to their circumference every year, which is about 50 percent carbon by weight. When manufactured into solid wood products, this carbon remains essentially inert and stable, and is kept out of the atmosphere for the lifetime of the product—or longer if the wood is recycled for another use.

A typical 2,500-square-foot wood-frame home has an estimated 30 metric tons of carbon stored in its structure, the equivalent of driving an average passenger car for five years, or using about 3,200 gallons of gasoline. Approached more broadly, the US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the amount of carbon stored in US forest products is equivalent to emissions from 18 million cars or 13 percent of all cars on the nation’s roads today.

Award-winning Wood Structures in the Carolinas


To honor architects and engineers who design and build with wood, WoodWorks, a cooperative venture of the major North American wood associations, hosts annual Wood Design Awards in each of its regions, including the Southeast. The awards recognize building professionals who display innovative use of wood in their non-residential and multi-family projects. They are given in eight categories, including engineering, green building, interior beauty of wood, traditional use of wood, wood behind the walls, institutional, multi-family, and commercial wood design.

This year, the judges presented six of the eight awards to individuals and/or firms from North Carolina and South Carolina. The engineering wood design award went to Bulla Smith Design Engineering of Charlotte for the YMCA Camp Thunderbird Duke Energy Pavilion in Lake Wylie. The structure features locally grown and fabricated Southern Yellow Pine, which was chosen for its sustainable aspects.

“As an Iconic structure in a heavily attended camp near Charlotte, this facility is regularly visited, viewed, and used by many generations of people in the area,” said William D. Bulla III, PE. “The experiences of visitors to this building will positively influence local perception of the possibilities of wood construction for generations to come.”

The commercial wood design award was given to Liollio Architecture of Charleston for the Charles Town Landing Founders Hall. The facility houses two flexible meeting spaces: a small executive room and a large conference hall sized to accommodate a seated dinner for 150 attendees. Founders Hall is registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for LEED® Gold Certification.

“We had a beautiful canvas to work with,” said Jay White, AIA. “The building is located within a state park, and the use of wood situates it gracefully in that setting.”

Cherry Huffman Architects of Raleigh took home the institutional wood design award for the Leesville Community Library. The building exemplifies wood’s strength, beauty, versatility and cost-effectiveness. The wood features create a warm and inviting atmosphere that is visually connected to the surrounding landscape.

Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce Architects of Winston-Salem earned the top honor in the interior beauty of wood category for International Sports Properties’ corporate headquarters. This award recognizes the extensive use of wood inside a non-residential structure. The building was designed to mimic the Milan High School gymnasium featured in the movie “Hoosiers,” which inspired Walter Robbs Callahan & Pierce to create the regulation half court basketball gymnasium that serves as the main lobby.

The traditional use of wood award recognizes the innovative use of wood in buildings that traditionally feature wood in their design and construction. This honor was awarded to John Denton Haley, AIA of Charleston for The Bungalows, a community of luxury guest cottages in St. Kitts, West Indies.

“The use of wood allowed us to save time and money. The buildings were panelized in Georgia, shipped in containers to St. Kitts and assembled on site to save critical time and labor costs,” said Haley. “The natural warmth added by the wood is a pleasant surprise; it provides a homey atmosphere with a casual barefoot sophistication.”

The wood behind the walls award was presented to Drakeford Architects of Sumter for the Lynches River Discovery Center in Coward, S.C. This award honors non-residential buildings that are structurally more than 90 percent wood-frame, and demonstrate innovation in terms of architectural design and function.

“Our primary reason for choosing wood was that simple wood post foundation has minimal impact on environment,” said C. Meredith Drakeford, Jr., Principal Architect. “Favorable performance during occasional flooding periods and reduced construction time were other factors we took into account.”

Wood – The Natural Choice


Not only does wood offer beauty, durability, design flexibility, cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits, the use of wood products has a positive impact on the local economy.

According to the South Carolina Forestry Association, forestry’s economic impact in South Carolina will expand from $17 billion to $20 billion per year by 2015. Increasing the forest industry in South Carolina by ten percent is also expected to create approximately 8,000 jobs and $1.7 billion more in annual impact to the overall economy.

As the above award-winning projects illustrate, design and building professionals are considering the facts and increasingly coming to the natural conclusion: it makes sense to use wood.

Patrick Schleisman is the regional director for WoodWorks in the Southeast. WoodWorks is an initiative of the Wood Products Council, which includes all of the major North American wood associations. For more information on the non-residential structures in the Carolinas that won Wood Design Awards, visit


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