The New River Train Observation Tower design-build by Virginia Tech students and faculty sets multiple benchmarks for CLT research, design, and construction globally. Rather than import softwood CLT into oversupplied, hardwood-dominate forest regions of the Eastern US, the project team decided to "think local" to reduce carbon costs. Following a multi-year research period, the multidisciplinary team developed a structurally-viable, high-performance, local-species cross-laminated timber product made with a low-grade hardwood - Yellow Poplar (YP-CLT) - and utilized it for the construction of the 30-foot high, 75-foot long publically accessible tower. The YP-CLT product not only outperforms all other CLT available in the US market, but the project is also the first permanent building permitted for, and constructed with, hardwood CLT in the United States. As the hardwood was harvested, sawn, pressed, and utilized all within a 200-mile radius of the project site, the train tower sets a precedent for the sustainable upcycling of low-value local resources into high-value products in hardwood-dominant regions globally.
The train tower is composed of two structural CLT boxes bisected by a handicap-accessible path. The project provides views over the New River while educating the public about local-species CLT construction with hardwoods. The project’s wood-education focus and linkage to the surrounding forested landscaped is evidenced through its projecting roof cantilevers - each a maximum of 3” thick - and the pixelated holes cut through the CLT - a strategy to provide playful views of the forest to children and adults alike while exposing the CLT layers to educate the public. The largest CLT box was prefabricated offsite as a module and craned into place. The project sets research and design benchmarks as the first permanent building to be constructed with exterior-exposed structural hardwood CLT, as well as the first to utilize modular prefabrication for permanent hardwood construction.