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A Return to Chicago Roots: Heavy Timber Construction

If the walls, beams, and columns of 1040 West Fulton could talk, they might tell the story of a long journey from the forests of Oregon to storage in Evanston, finally arriving in Chicago’s Fulton Market to become a piece of the first new heavy timber construction project in the city in over 50 years.

As the popularity of heavy timber construction grew, Summit Design + Build set out to construct its new headquarters with wood, and not just any wood – glue-laminated heavy timber. Thousands of pounds of it. And what for when the majority of new construction is steel and concrete? To echo the neighborhood’s roots as a meatpacking district where the majority of buildings were made from mill construction, a slow-burning heavy timber system from the 19th century.

What is Glue-laminated Timber?

Douglas fir trees from the Pacific Northwest, fed through mills in McMinnville, Oregon and Salmon, Idaho, were transformed into the glue-laminated structure of 1040 West Fulton. Glue-laminated timber, or glulam for short, is an engineered wood product where multiple layers of solid wood lumber are bonded together with high-strength adhesive to form a single structural unit.

Strong, cost-effective and highly customizable, the eco-friendly material can be used as roof and floor beams, columns, bracing, decking and other structural components. Glulam also offers between 1 ½ and 2 times the strength-to-weight ratio of steel and is produced with a fraction of the energy used for steel or concrete manufacturing.

Originating in Europe, the popularity of mass timber has spread to the U.S. in recent years with some leading architects referring to it as the future of construction and the new concrete. In fact, in a recent Dezeen article, architects praised the “wonder material of the 21st century” with one, Andrew Waugh, saying that “this is the beginning of the timber age.”

Summit's New HQ

Once complete, the new 45,000 square foot building will incorporate first floor retail, underground parking, a shared roof deck, a fifth floor patio and four floors of office space, two of which will be Summit’s new headquarters. However, the plans and design of 1040 West Fulton were in place long before the glue had dried on the wood that would become its bones.

“We started the landmark review process for our new building in 2015, and given the uniqueness of this material, we’ve relied heavily on international building code,” said Adam Miller, President, Summit Design + Build. “We’ve really had to become experts in this building type.”

Beams and columns come together to support the higher floors. The beams come in at 6 ¾ inches thick and vary in width from 15 to 27 inches while the columns are 12 inches by 12 inches, each weighing roughly 800 pounds. The façade of the building incorporates two types of bricks and fiber cement as required by landmarks, another way of staying faithful to the long held look and feel of the neighborhood.

What's next for heavy timber?

1040 West Fulton is in good company as other noted projects — Minneapolis’s T3 and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s new John W. Oliver Design Building — have embraced heavy timber. Other timber frame buildings are also cropping up in places like Denver, Seattle and Portland. Designers, developers and contractors alike agree that timber is a good alternative to concrete, often leading to faster construction and creating a warm space with unique textures and the industrial touch of exposed elements, something office tenants are seeking out in places like Fulton Market.

For Summit, heavy timber was the clear choice. Mimicking historic design elements and returning to the roots of the neighborhood the company has long called home shows how wood can withstand the test of time.