Mass Timber + Hospitality: The Architect Perspective

by | September 21, 2020 3 Architecture, Ideas

This is the second entry in our blog series exploring the development of a realistic, hypothetical mass timber hotel through the points of view of a developer, a design & construction team, an operator, and a guest. Check out our first entry: the Developer perspective.

Golden panels of cross-laminated timber soar out toward a tree-tipped horizon, framed by a set of walls enclosing the main stair and evaporating into a skeleton of wood framing. I lose myself in the image for a moment, then look up from my screen and refocus. I need to push and finish this field report: ‘Timber structure observed to be nearly complete on 6th floor and in progress on 7th floor above.’

Sheesh, the crew is actually banging out two floors a week on this hotel, like the general contractor had originally quoted. I’ve been promised a lot of things over the years as an architect, and although I had read up on the speed of installing mass timber, it’s still quite a sight to actually see it click into place this quickly.

This early focus on preconstruction has meant much deeper coordination with mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire sprinkler too. The beautiful exposed CLT ceilings meant extra care was needed during design when it came to routing the various ductwork, piping, and conduit — keeping lines concealed as much as possible. Beyond our usual tricks, we also found a lot of utility in hiding electrical in the floor build-up above the CLT floor-ceiling panels.  Because wood is relatively light, we have to be even more careful about how we build up our floors so that they can help mitigate sound transfer and impact noise through the floors… definitely an important characteristic when you think about guestrooms stacked over one another in a hotel.

Despite how fast I’ve had to move on my end to keep up with the construction crew on this job, I’m thankful it’s been going smoothly. No new RFIs in like three weeks — we had coordinated and figured so much of it out in the months before shovels even broke ground. The timber contractor actually paired up with a supplier that offered 4D fabrication and delivery, which meant even the trucks that arrived onsite had been designed so that panels can get picked right off the truck, in the right sequence, at the right time. Panels never got set on the ground, and with all of the hardware factory-installed and pieces sanded to fit within an 1/8” tolerance, this is truly 21st century joinery done at a massive scale.

I hit Send on the report and close my laptop. Another long day in the books, but I’ve gotta say it feels good to be immersed in a project like this. With the wildfires, hurricanes, and generally bonkers weather happening all over the globe, driven by our rapidly changing climate, we’re entering what will be a fierce effort to reduce the carbon in our atmosphere and reclaim our planet. Moving toward a more extensive use of sustainably-harvested wood in buildings offers us the kind of scale to make a difference and move the needle toward reducing embodied carbon and tapering our global emissions. In some small way, I feel part of this effort to rescue our planet, helping to merge technology with wood and a reinvigorated sense of land and forest stewardship to create hospitality environments that inspire our travels and contribute to this broad cause.

Josh Cabot is a project architect and passionate mass timber advocate at SERA Architects. Josh’s background in architecture (Syracuse University M.Arch) and structural engineering (University of Wyoming B.S.), coupled with years of experience as a general and mechanical construction project manager, has shown he is an integrator at heart, always trying to find the conditions where user experience and building performance can sing. Josh is particularly interested in structural and passive design strategies that reduce energy, improve building resilience, and create conditions conducive to comfort and delight.

The Mass Timber + Hospitality research team includes:

Josh Cabot, SERA
Gary Golla, SERA
Chad Chalupsky, Fulcrum
Mitch Lund, Fulcrum
Tom Kostelecky, Marriott International
Jack McCutcheon, KPFF
Erica Spiritos, Swinerton Mass Timber


  1. Great article Josh. Really nice closing piece about stewardship. Thanks for the article and all your work with the group to put the blog series together.

  2. Brendan Post says |

    Nice, Josh. And I agree with Gary G. about the closing. That sense of pushing the needle in the right direction and creating something that is beautiful and ecologically responsible is a BIG reason I love working on mass timber projects.

  3. Josh – Great job! And +1 to both Gary and Brenden’s comments.

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