Bicoastal Beginnings and Where are We Now?

Wed, Apr 24, 2024

Rendering of Framework, courtesy of LEVER Architecture

475 W 18

Rendering of 475 W. 19th St., courtesy of SHoP

The Museum's "Mass Timber Semester" lecture series, which brings together key voices in the Mass Timber movement to reflect on its short history, current condition, and promising future, began with an in-person program held at the office of the international engineering firm Arup, at 77 Water St. in lower Manhattan.

The opening program featured architects Thomas Robinson of Portland, Oregon-based LEVER Architecture and Chris Sharples of SHoP in New York City who discussed their first Mass Timber high-rise designs and linked those beginnings to their current work. In 2015, their projects were selected as the co-winners of the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize, a competition – sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Softwood Lumber Board (SLB), and Binational Softwood Lumber Council (BSLC) – directed at stimulating innovation in high-rise applications in Mass Timber construction. While neither Framework – LEVER’s proposal for a 12-story, mixed-use building – nor 475 W. 18 St., SHoP’s design for a 10-story Manhattan apartment building near the High Line, were ultimately built, the projects advanced the goals of establishing fire, seismic, and other testing to apply to later projects.

Over the past decade, LEVER and SHoP have continued to explore Mass Timber. On the West Coast, LEVER is completing several large-scale commissions, including the Adidas Headquarters Expansion in Portland, Oregon, and a creative office complex in L.A., 843 N Spring Street, as well as the addition to the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art. SHoP’s portfolio in wood includes two tech headquarters across continents, the new headquarters for YouTube in San Bruno, California and the award-winning Atlassian Central in Sydney, Australia. A 42-story Mass Timber, steel, and concrete tower, Atlassian Central will become the world’s tallest hybrid Mass Timber building upon completion in 2027.

Jeff Spiritos, the developer partner for 475 W. 18th St., was the moderator for the discussion of the beginnings, "lessons learned," and next steps for tall Mass Timber buildings.

The Museum thanks ARUP for the generous donation of their event space for this program.

Thomas Robinson is the Founder and Principal of LEVER Architecture. Prior to establishing the firm, Thomas led cultural and institutional projects for Allied Works and Herzog & de Meuron. He received an MArch from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and a BA from the University of California, Berkeley.

Christopher Sharples is a founding principal of SHoP, an architecture firm in Lower Manhattan, New York City, with projects located on five continents. Currently, Chris’s concentration is on revolutionary models of building that embrace next-generation environmental and materials systems such as bio-based material systems, as well as process-driven innovation utilizing offsite manufacturing to achieve more efficient and environmentally responsive building delivery.

Jeff Spiritos is the principal of Spiritos Properties, a commercial and residential developer that for the past nine years has turned to build only with mass timber. Spiritos has multiple ongoing mass timber principal development, consultancy, and advocacy projects underway in the Northeast US.


The video begins with a welcome by Michelle Roelofs, structural engineer at Arup and specialist in Mass Timber, and an introduction to the program by Museum Director Carol Willis, followed by the presentations of Thomas Robinson and Chris Sharples, a discussion, and Q&A.