An innovative wood office building that reflects nature

The mirrored paneling on a brand new Hillsboro office building reflects the blue sky and surrounding wetlands on a sunny afternoon. Where most office structures are encircled by a sea of parking spaces, this wood building is nestled next to a picturesque pond in a nature preserve.

When you walk inside you are immediately drawn to the smooth wood floors and beams that surround you above and below. If you listen, you can almost hear the new building breathing as it expands and contracts with the sun.

It’s First Tech Federal Credit Union’s new corporate facility, completed in 2018 by Swinerton, a commercial construction company. It also became America’s largest building by area framed with Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), a large-scale, prefabricated, solid engineered wood panel building material.

America’s largest Cross Laminated Timber-framed building.

The wood floor and ceiling gives the entrance lobby a woodsy feeling. Wallpaper mimics the tree line that can be seen just outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. Many of the 700 employees say it feels like working in a tree house. The impact on them might be more than visual as research shows the presence of wood indoors can significantly reduce stress levels among occupants, as reported by Think Wood.

First Tech had been growing successfully in the area serving employees and family members of the world’s leading technology companies. To provide better service to their members they needed a space to bring their employees together who were scattered among various smaller offices. This led to the purchase of a 17-acre plot in Hillsboro and a steering committee comprised of First Tech leaders representing divisions from across the organization. Their objective was to design a space that fostered collaboration, connection, and flexibility.

The steering committee partnered with local experts and solicited employee feedback to help inform the ‘People First’ vision for the project.

“The idea to make this office a mass timber building came early in the process,” said Monique Little, Chief People and Administrative Officer with First Tech Federal Credit Union and Executive Sponsor of the visioning process. “We wanted to create a facility that reflects who we are as well as who we serve; innovative and forward looking organizations.”

Carbon stored in Wood: 4,192 Metric TonsAvoided Greenhouse Gas: 1,622 Metric TonsEquivalent to removing 1,229 Cars for a Year

Swinerton and Hacker Architects helped First Tech realize their vision. When the steering committee settled on a concept that could allow the surrounding park to flow through the building and look pleasing both inside and out, Hacker Architects suggested CLT as a building material to accomplish these goals.

46 minutes to regrow the volume of wood used in the building.

In addition to looking attractive, Swinerton also proved to First Tech that it was the most responsible choice for the member-owned credit union.

“It made more sense from a financial standpoint to use CLT,” explained William Silva, Director of Preconstruction with Swinerton. “This wood building will last as long as any other traditional structure and was four percent less

expensive than conventional construction and four months quicker to deliver.  First Tech also focused on energy efficiency and the project team was able to deliver a building that is 71 percent more energy efficient than your standard commercial building.”

CLT was four percent less expensive to use and could be completed four months faster.
71 percent more energy efficient than your standard commercial building.

“We also saw this as an opportunity to be good stewards and support the local timber industry,” continued Little. First Tech’s new corporate office is a LEED Gold facility and used timber sourced less than 500 miles away. The use of CLT avoided 1,622 metric tons of greenhouse gas that would have been generated using a more traditional material like concrete and steel. The building itself stores 4,192 metric tons of carbon in the wood. That’s equivalent to removing 1,229 cars from Oregon’s roads for a year.

It also would only take 46 minutes for Oregon’s forests to regrow the volume of wood used in the building.

Once construction was completed and the doors were opened, First Tech saw an opportunity to use their new facility to give back to the local community. High school students from the Hillsboro school district run the café on the second floor. They are interviewed and selected to manage every aspect, from the brewing to the pastry display and even the marketing. Little says she recently hired one of the students from the shop as a summer intern. Nonprofits who partner with First Tech have the opportunity to use the facility for meetings and events.

Buildings like First Tech Federal Credit Union’s new corporate facility could be much more common in years to come thanks to their attractive appearance and sustainable footprint. Oregon’s recent pioneering move to allow mass timber buildings higher than six stories could be an additional push for more of these innovative structures that reflect Oregon’s natural beauty.