Emerging Timber Solutions in Sports

05 December 2022
Geodis park credit nashville soccer club 2

This article was originally published in the third quarter 2022 issue of PanStadia & Arena Management.


Mass timber expert Trevor Acorn explores timber’s increased use in sporting venues.

Mass timber, which is solid panels of wood engineered for strength and stiffness through laminations of different layers, has grown significantly in popularity and use since the invention of crosslaminated timber (CLT) in the 1980s.

There are many reasons for its growing use, the most common of which are sustainability, aesthetics, and construction-related advantages.

Stadiums, specifically, are unique in that due to their large size, a variety of different “neighbourhoods,” and design aesthetics can be found throughout. 

While mass timber might not be the ideal choice for the entire structure, there is almost always an opportunity to use mass timber in some components of the stadium.

Gaining Popularity
Buildings with exposed timber are often highly desirable places to be and visit. People tend to prefer natural materials, such as wood, that are warm and welcoming. The natural material and biophilic design aesthetic connect people inside with nature, promoting their wellbeing and quality of life.

Additionally, CLT has many unique construction-related benefits. It’s fabricated to very tight tolerances, easily manipulated, lightweight, strong, can serve as a finish material, can span in two directions, and is highly durable in humid environments. These attributes make it a popular choice.

The Vanderbilt University Basketball Practice Facility and Knoxville Multi-Use Stadium, which are currently in the design phase, have chosen to use CLT as the primary roof decking material. Each project desired to use wood for the sustainability benefits and desired design aesthetic.

Environmental Impact
Owners and fans are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of the stadiums and are demanding measurable and sustainable solutions. Timber offers owners and fans a design aesthetic that is often found to be more desirable than the competition.

For example, the exposed wood detailing the entry canopies of Nashville’s GEODIS Park creates a design aesthetic matching the heritage of the area where exposed wood structures are common. The structural characteristics mass timber provide allows a 27-ft clear span between columns, giving the owner extreme flexibility over the life of the building as technology continues to evolve.

For builders and designers of sports architecture, mass timber has the potential to decrease construction schedules, simplify the structure, and decrease the total number or variation of components and trades on site.

Harnessing Benefits
Owners taking a more sustainable approach can require that their design teams perform a lifecycle analysis to measure the environmental impact of their building. The biophilic benefits of timber are readily appreciated, but the environmental calculus is more complex. The timber supply chain, like all material supply chains, produces emissions that cause air and water impacts.

For this reason, it is important that owners considering timber for environmental reasons require their design teams to perform life cycle assessments to evaluate the environmental impacts of the design alternatives, and that these analyses include consideration of both manufacturing and shipping impacts.

While timber sourced from well-managed forests can bring environmental benefits, timber from a poorly managed forest may be environmentally worse than a concrete or steel alternative.

Dirk Kestner, Walter P Moore’s Director of Sustainable Design adds: “There is a need for the timber industry to provide a similar level of supplier-specific environmental data to what the concrete and steel industry provides. This will allow designers and owners can better assess the environmental benefits of timber.”

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