Clay Pavilion is a 115,000 sq. ft. steel and hybrid glulam frame building with an NLT floor system at 120 SE Clay Street in Portland, Oregon. Situated in the heart of the city's Central Eastside Industrial District, it answers the call for more creative office space in a neighborhood at the threshold of a significant evolution in character and vibrancy.
The three-story building has large floor plates and tall ceilings aiming to appeal to creators in technology and design-based professions. The exterior aesthetic is a modern reflection of its surrounding industrial context, and the interior strives to thoughtfully reflect the building’s structural elements of steel, wood, and concrete—with NLT as a unifying element between the building’s two wings.
Corner retail activates Clay Street, itself evolving into a critical street in the neighborhood, and multi-story amenity spaces at the building’s core channel light and connect users throughout. This refined rendition of the modern office landscape captures and elevates the characteristics of the surrounding neighborhood—setting a new, distinguished standard for future developments.
Designing a Future-Ready Creative Office
Creative offices tend to attract discerning and thoughtful user demographics interested in raw, edgy environments, forward-thinking design and versatile open spaces. At 120 Clay, structural materials achieve this goal both aesthetically and functionally. The exposed joints and connections of the architecture lead to a visually active, energetic interior that intertwines warm timbers with cool steel and concrete elements. A glazed portal reveals the dynamic structure within to pedestrians and travelers of Clay Street.
Mass timber structures serve the functional goals of creative office design as well. Less attractive parts and pieces of typical office systems can be neatly tucked away beneath a raised floor, maximizing exposure to the natural wood and creating a more flexible layout for existing and future tenants of the space. 120 Clay used this method to reduce layout obstructions while maximizing versatility through 35-40-foot spans and only a single row of columns breaking up a 70-80-foot floor plates.
This was a literal stretch from traditional mass timber 20-25-foot grids. To achieve it, the team designed an innovative, double glulam truss to meet the long spans, while maintaining the high, open, floor-to-floor spaces.
Choosing Nail-Laminated Timber
Every project completed with mass timber is a piece of the ever-evolving history of the quickly blooming industry. Like time capsules, they capture the collective considerations of the available products and existing building code requirements of the time. In the family history of building materials, technology like CLT is in its infancy. At the time of Clay Pavilion's design and construction, the cost of CLT was extremely prohibitive, fabrication options were limited, and the code supporting it largely unsettled.
Luckily, we had NLT—a centuries-old sibling to CLT that is less complicated and less restrictive. With a strong arm, a few boxes of nails, and a space to work, we could quickly fabricate NLT for the project at a fraction of the time and cost of CLT: no sophisticated hydraulic press needed. Using NLT captures the traditional structure of an industrial building, accurately tying the project with the neighborhood’s character. Also, it’s stunning to boot.
120 Clay was designed as two separate office wings with core and amenity spaces bridging between them like a butterfly. Exposed steel beams with glulam columns weave through the space, creating visual diversity within different sections of the building. The structural core was concrete, and the horizontal structure was a mix of wood trusses and steel, but NLT became the fabric binding the whole building together. The texture of NLT lends noticeable aesthetic and acoustic benefits to the space, and the simple nature of 2x4 boards gives the space a human scale as well.
Recapturing the Speed of Pre-Fabrication
Historically, NLT has been nailed up in place, board by board, nail by nail. Modern demands on construction, however, don’t align with the pace that version would have taken.
Instead, the team devised a method for the NLT to be pre-fabricated off-site in panels, then craned into place. This reduced overall construction time and allowed for components to be built and tested to understand expected expansion under Portland’s typical heavy rains. During construction, strategic gaps were left in the NLT panels to allow for moisture expansion and were able to be filled in after the roof was completed.
Along with the pre-fabrication of other building components, such as exterior wall panels, the construction team was able to capture much of the schedule benefits promised by CLT to meet the owner’s construction goals.
Complying with Code
Exposing that beautiful wood and steel can be trickier than one might think. Where the new mass timber provisions were not yet adopted in the code, we had to look to traditional construction types as the basis for our approach. We wouldn’t normally celebrate over zoning restrictions, but in the case of 120 Clay, limitations on the building’s overall size let us fit into a less restrictive construction type. As a Type IIIB structure, with thoughtful consideration of the code, the three-story building with a full basement could be largely unrated—meaning we could expose the NLT, hybrid trusses, and connections, saving cost and avoiding unsightly extra layers of material.
The project at 120 Clay was an exploration and application of the full potential of NLT to create a signature workplace and an inspiring new pavilion for an evolving district. Thoughtfully exposing the timber materials created the warm, creative office environment, which in turn serves as a sincere reflection of the industrial fabric of the surrounding neighborhood. Supporting NLT with hybrid trusses led to an open, adaptable interior environment for current and future tenants, and panelizing it with a local framer captured the time-savings benefit of a more advanced mass timber technology at a fraction of the cost. This project has us excited about new applications and potential projects that can tap into the ever-evolving line of mass timber products.
This project’s success relied, in no small part, on the deep collaboration between the design, development, construction, and engineering team members. Thank you, Killian Pacific, for making this project possible, and to the entire project team who helped make it a reality, including: Turner Construction, DCI Engineers, Glumac, Shapiro Didway, Mackenzie, and Potestio Studio.
Written by Ben Stinson, Senior Associate, Ankrom Moisan, with editorial assistance by Ashley Kraner, Content Coordinator, Ankrom Moisan.