By Morgan Kinney
WHILE RICE STUDENTS CHEERED the announcement of a sorely needed new wing for the school’s Hanszen College, outsiders heralded the project as a Houston milestone: the city’s first structure constructed from something called mass timber.
The newfangled building practice usually starts with everyday lumber stacked Jenga-style and bonded together to create a composite that’s both super-strong and fire-resistant. Manufacturers use it to create built-to-specification walls, beams, columns, and whatever else goes into a particular building. “Once you send the blueprints to the factory, they manufacture it, and all you have to do is assemble,” explains Jesús Vassallo, the Rice architecture professor and mass timber expert overseeing the university’s project.