New River Train Observation Tower, Virginia Architecture, USA Timber Structure Photos

New River Train Observation Tower in Virginia

Apr 21, 2022

Design: Virginia Tech students and faculty

Location: Virginia, USA

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

Photos: Kay Edge and Edward Becker

New River Train Observation Tower, Virginia

The award-winning Observation Tower, by Virginia Tech students and faculty, pairs cutting-edge timber research with innovative off-site assembly methods.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

The recently-completed project in rural Virginia demonstrates a unique approach to low-carbon design and construction through the use of the university’s own interdisciplinary research.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

In 2018, the riverfront city of Radford, Virginia approached Virginia Tech – a nearby public research university – to assist the town with the visioning for a new train observation tower that would provide public access to views over the adjacent New River and a historically significant railroad bridge.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

A primary project objective for the city was the use of clean-tech, low-carbon building products as a way to showcase the city’s transition away from its industrial past. Over the following two-year project period, an interdisciplinary faculty and student team partnered to research, design, and build the 75-foot long by 30-foot high public building.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

Early in the design process, the students chose to focus on emerging building technology – cross-laminated timber (CLT) – due to its strength, sustainability, and unique spatial properties. As the design process progressed, the project team discovered that the carbon cost to ship industrially produced cross-laminated timber panels to the project site was too high and, as such, the project team was forced to “think local” in order to cut carbon costs, thus entailing the creative application of locally-sourced raw materials.

New River Train Observation Tower VA

Low-carbon product development
Following the culmination of years of research across multiple university departments, the resulting custom-developed, hardwood cross-laminated timber (HCLT) product utilizes low-grade Yellow Poplar lumber regionally sourced from oversupplied, hardwood-dominant forests. The custom HCLT product not only outperformed all other commercially available CLT in the U.S. market – notably made from softwoods – but the product’s raw materials were also sourced and up-cycled within a two-hundred-mile radius of the project site.

New River Train Observation Tower VA

With research beginning at the scale of a lab sample, and resulting in the 5-foot by 10-foot high-strength panels, the student and faculty team was able to incorporate unique architectural features into the project that aligned with the HCLT’s robust performance metrics, namely 3-inch thick structural cantilevers, and exterior exposed structural members.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

In the United States, the production of CLT is governed by APA/PRG-320 code requirements, which only permit construction with certified softwood panels. As such, the project team pursued a performance-based approval process for the custom product through the collection of data relating to its structural and moisture-related performance, and its susceptibility to UV, fungal, and insect degradation, a key part of the interdisciplinary project process.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

Modular construction
Perched above the New River on a steeply sloping brownfield site, the challenging site conditions required the project team to prefabricate building components in a controlled environment offsite. The project’s architectural design involves two modular HCLT cubes that are bisected by a public walkway. The walkway begins at grade and culminates in a 20-foot-high cantilever as the site drops steeply towards the river.

New River Train Observation Tower VA
photo © Kay Edge

Due to complicated site logistics, including the ruins of a Civil-war era building discovered under the project’s foundations during construction, the project team entirely prefabricated one 10-foot by 15-foot HCLT module that was then subsequently craned into place on-site, with a six-inch tolerance from surrounding trees. The New River Train Observation Tower is the first project globally to utilize modular HCLT construction methods in a permanent building, thus entailing unique and careful detailing to keep the cantilevering, panelized system water protected and safe from racking during construction.

New River Train Observation Tower VA
photo © Kay Edge

The project is also globally unique as an example of exterior-exposed structural elements made from laminated hardwood. Each screw hole was impregnated with liquid wax, and then the entire exterior envelope was coated in a linseed oil and natural pine tar mix to protect it from UV, heat, and moisture damage.

New River Train Observation Tower VA
photo © Kay Edge

The project is the first permanent, HCLT building permitted in the United States. And, through a research and development process that piloted the custom up-cycling of low-value locally sourced materials, it sets a benchmark for low-carbon, research-based, sustainable construction.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

New River Train Observation Tower, Virginia – Building Information

Official Project Name: New River Train Observation Tower
Location: Radford, Virginia
Project completion date: 2021
Client: City of Radford, Virginia
Budget: 101,000 USD
Project Architects: Edward Becker, Kay Edge
Design team: Kirt Hilker, Robert Riggs, and Virginia Tech students

New River Train Observation Tower VA
photo © Kay Edge

Primary Material: Hardwood cross-laminated timber
Collaborators: Dr. Daniel Hindman, Dr. Tom Hammett, Dr. Henry Quesada, Dr. Joseph Loferski, Dr. Brian Bond
Engineers: Truesdell Engineering
Suppliers: Henard Metal Fabricators, Walder Foundation Products, Helix Steel, Chandler Concrete
Project sector: Cultural

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

About Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech is a large, public, land-grant research university. The university enrolls 36,000 students and has an annual research budget of $531 million USD. Virginia Tech’s undergraduate architecture program is regularly ranked as one of the top design programs in the United States.

New River Train Observation Tower Virginia

Photography: Kay Edge and Edward Becker

New River Train Observation Tower, Virginia images / information received 210422 from v2com newswire

Location: Virginia, USA

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