Innovative Mass Timber Construction Marks Progress for the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy Building

July 09, 2024
Sustainability Architecture Health Science Education

The cutting-edge project, designed by RDG, is expected to cut embodied carbon by 40% and serve as a model for environmentally responsible building practices.

Construction is underway on the University of Michigan's College of Pharmacy building. The project, designed by RDG Planning & Design alongside Alvine Engineering (mechanical, electrical and plumbing), TD2 Engineering & Surveying (structural engineering) and Midwestern Consulting (civil engineering), marks a significant advancement in sustainable building practices, utilizing mass-timber structures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the speed of construction and provide well-being benefits to emphasize a shared culture of sustainability.

Positioned at the intersection of Glen Avenue and E. Huron Street, the project represents a significant step forward in the pursuit of sustainable architecture and construction. The College of Pharmacy building is expected to have a 40% reduction in embodied carbon due to its mass timber design, avoiding more than 1,500 MTCO2e from the use of structural steel, which is equivalent to the amount of carbon sequestered by 1,800 acres of forest in one year. In addition to mass timber, the building’s energy-efficient features generate an estimated 52% energy cost savings using on-campus power generation compared to an ASHRAE 90.1-2013 baseline building; high-performance systems and chilled beams support this achievement. Water conservation efforts include a comprehensive stormwater management system and native plantings that do not require irrigation; likewise, the building’s stormwater management incorporates underground rainwater storage tanks, which can temporarily hold water from a 100-year storm underground and release it through the underlying soils into the regional groundwater system. The building’s strategic location near public transportation routes further promotes sustainability by encouraging public transit and enabling accessibility to services and community engagement opportunities. This project is registered with LEED and is pursuing LEED Gold certification.

"The use of mass timber has many benefits to the project, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing fire safety and providing a natural and biophilic environment. The design will provide a natural and biophilic aesthetic that can improve the well-being and productivity of occupants,” said RDG Architect and Senior Partner Benjamin Kroll, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB. "This project represents a significant leap forward in sustainable building practices and serves as a model for future research projects aiming for environmental responsibility.”

RDG’s design combines fire detection and suppression systems that go beyond baseline fire codes and standards to further improve fire performance. Moreover, using mass timber enhances fire safety by creating a char layer on the surface of the wood that insulates and protects the inner core from burning. Mass timber can offer structural advantages, such as a high strength-to-weight ratio, dimensional stability and resistance to various forces, allowing the design to support the flexibility and space needs of the College of Pharmacy program. Because mass timber products are engineered to have consistent and predictable properties and can be prefabricated to reduce construction time and waste, using this material is critical in addressing the project’s narrow site, limited laydown areas and adjacency to E. Huron Street.

“The pharmacy community’s mission is to improve health outcomes, and our wellness is impacted by the environment. I am happy that we are doing our part to support the university’s goals of carbon neutrality and sustainability," said Dean Vicki Ellingrod, College of Pharmacy, University of Michigan.

Scheduled for completion in the fall of 2025, the 142,000-SF state-of-the-art building will centralize the College of Pharmacy’s operations, currently dispersed across various campus locations, into a single modern facility to elevate the university’s research capabilities and resources. The project, initiated in 2019 and further developed in October 2022 following approval from the board of regents, showcases cutting-edge sustainable design and future-forward research and learning environments.

Written by Erin Van Zee, Communications Director