Early last year, we got a first look at what was then called Osten Hall, a five-story office project developed by Endeavor Real Estate Group and designed by Delineate Studio at 901 East Sixth Street, just north of Endeavor’s massive Plaza Saltillo site.
More than a year later, the structure is well underway, and it’s now apparently going by the name 901 East Sixth.
The building’s design has changed a bit since the renderings we saw last year. The most visible difference is the roof losing its charmingly wonky “peaks and valleys” design, which is a tiny bit of a bummer, but the project’s still doing something unique — according to Endeavor, it’s the first building in the city to incorporate what’s called cross-laminated timber (CLT), a material with emerging popularity for both its aesthetic and structural qualities among architects and engineers. And believe me, I’ve talked to quite a few of them — they’re hyped about this stuff.
So what is it? CLT is like a higher-end version of plywood, and derives its properties from roughly the same method of fabrication — the technical term for these materials is “engineered wood.” It’s created by gluing layers of wood together at perpendicular angles, and this is where CLT finds its unique durability.
The physical properties of wood are a result of what’s called anisotropy, meaning that its strength varies depending on the axis of the load applied to it — for example, a piece of wood is easier to split with the grain instead of against it. (If this all makes you glaze over, just remember that a smoked brisket is also anisotropic, which is why people are likely to hurl abuse in your direction if you slice it along the grain.)
By gluing several pieces of wood together at perpendicular angles of anisotropy, the material suddenly finds itself blessed with strength in all directions — this is also how plywood is made, but the layers glued together for CLT are much thicker and start with higher-quality wood.
At its best, CLT allows a building’s design to employ the warm, natural effects of timber without the various drawbacks typically associated with wood buildings. The product capitalizes on the unique strength-to-weight ratio of wood, allowing it to compete in the market with concrete or steel design. It’s a far more efficient insulator than these traditional materials, reducing the carbon footprint of a building’s heating and cooling systems – and the renewable nature of wood means its production is potentially a carbon negative.
On top of all that, CLT is also inherently more resistant to fire than regular wood — its thickness means a potential fire will char the panels, creating a permeable layer of carbon that insulates the rest of the panel itself from additional combustion. There’s a reason some people call CLT the world’s most advanced structural material.
Still, it’s got a few downsides — it generally costs more than other approaches, and since CLT panels are often prefabricated for a specific application in a building, it’s tough to adapt or modify it once it’s installed, making any potential remodeling costlier down the road.
That’s a lot of words about wood, but since this project’s the first in the city to use CLT, it helps to know why anyone cares. The 901 East Sixth building uses the material all over, in walls, floors, ceilings, and more, but its structure is also supported by steel beams and columns. This is noteworthy, since it makes the building a hybrid steel/timber construction.
It’s actually possible to build an entire modern structure with CLT and other types of wood, and these are called “mass timber” buildings — it’s important to make the distinction that while 901 East Sixth is the first building in the city to use CLT, it’s not an all-wood structure either. Not that it matters, it’s just interesting to learn about. As the material grows in popularity, there’s a good chance someone’s going to build an all-wood structure in Austin — there’s at least one potentially on the way in San Antonio, thanks to the trailblazing folks at Lake Flato and BOKA Powell.
Anyway, Endeavor is wisely leaning on the draw of this unique material to attract office tenants, particularly the youthful variety. Wood, it seems, is authentic, and authenticity is worth literally everything from a marketing perspective:
“Every generation wants to connect with the spaces they interact with, and Millennials are no different; to live and work in authentic spaces that feel undeniably their own, with a mix of old and new character. The use of Cross Laminated Timber offers a sense of warmth and authenticity of an older building mixed with state of the art design and new technologies.”
— Endeavor Real Estate Group, 901 East Sixth Press Release
Hey, it sure beats drywall. Check out Endeavor’s live feed of the building’s construction below: