A rendering of 777 Brookridge Drive in Virginia-Highland. (Renderings courtesy of Tate Lauderdale, AIA, and Thomas J. Crane)

Virginia-Highland is the site of an upcoming home-building project that includes an innovative green technology. Construction of the single-family residence will feature mass timber, a material manufactured from thick, compressed layers of engineered wood.

The new home at 777 Brookridge Drive, across from Orme Park, is designed in the West Coast Classical style with cedar and redwood posts and beams. Its columns, as well as floor, wall, and ceilings, will be made from mass timber, a progressive and under-utilized material as robust as steel and concrete with the warmth and attractiveness of wood.

Despite mass timber’s growing popularity, there are few homes in the Atlanta area that have used it, and this is the first that has come to the open market here.

Developer Tom Crane noted that mass timber is used worldwide, especially in Europe, to construct a variety of buildings up to 18 or 20 stories high. “There are two large mass timber buildings in Atlanta,” he reported.

The seven-story T3 office building in Atlantic Station is listed as the “largest mass timber building in the U.S.” At Ponce City Market, 619 Ponce is an under-construction, four-story loft office project using Georgia-grown timber and a regional supply chain.

What is mass timber?

According to Crane, mass timber is “a truly powerful potential building component. The science indicates it has a life of over 200 years, and when sealed, mass timber is more thermally dynamic than concrete or brick.”

777 Brookridge architect Tate Lauderdale, AIA, has studied mass timber for a decade, beginning with his undergraduate and graduate work, including a thesis on mass timber, at Auburn, and continuing on into his professional career. He explained that mass timber is constructed of wood that is attached in perpendicular layers for strength.

Since mass timber creates support in two directions, it becomes stronger than steel and concrete and can provide more strength with thinner components. 

The layering process is similar to plywood, “…but mass timber scales it up. It’s much thicker, as bigger pieces of solid lumber, like 2x4s, are nailed or glued together in three, five or seven layers,” Lauderdale said. “It can be used for walls, floors and ceilings, and it is incredibly strong and fire resistant. In fact, it is just as fire resistant — possibly more so — than steel or concrete.”

Mass Timber can be engineered to create beams, columns and posts in a process called Glulam, or constructed into panels of cross laminated timber (CLT). Since it can be made from all types of wood and stained any color, it offers a wide variety of customizations.

Lauderdale notes that mass timber gives buildings a light and modern look, but perhaps its best aspect is sustainability and low environmental impact — a total potential carbon savings of 25 metric tons. “It saves the equivalent of the energy needed to operate two homes for a year, or of taking five or six cars off the highways,” he said. “And that savings continues every year throughout its lifespan. These design elements collectively move the house toward carbon-net zero.”

While mass timber was developed in Austria in the late 1990s, “it has taken awhile here in the U.S. to catch on,” Lauderdale said. That’s largely due to changes needed in U.S. building codes to catch up with the latest building innovations.

“There are many mass timber buildings in Europe, and it’s starting to be more accepted here,” he continued. “We’re bringing that European concept to Atlanta.”

Mass timber offers construction solutions

The contractor for 777 Brookridge, Vincent Longo of Longo Custom Builders, has extensive experience in homebuilding. In February, he was named “2022 Builder of the Year” by the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association.

Longo said that mass timber is providing answers to construction issues, as well as environmental impacts. One of the current challenges he faces is the lack of trade workers to replace the many who have hit retirement age.

“The pool of skilled carpentry, masonry and mechanical tradesmen is just not out there anymore,” he said. “Less and less people are going into that side of the industry.”

Mass timber, however, requires much less skilled labor. It’s engineered in a plant with large, computerized routers and saws to custom specifications within 1/16 of an inch. Once onsite, the components are assembled and sealed together for a thermally efficient fit.

“Everything is precision cut at the plant,” Longo said, “That also means it’s not left outside and exposed to the elements. It’s very easy to put together, taking about a third of the time that it takes to build everything on site.”

He said that mass timber components fit together almost like a jigsaw puzzle or Lego set, and they go up much faster. “It takes about six weeks to frame a home manually on a site, but a mass timber house can be put up in two weeks,” Longo added. 

Since mass timber takes less time to construct, that adds up to less noise and a shorter disruption for the neighborhood during construction. Fewer deliveries and laborers mean fewer vehicles on the road and clogging up community streets.

There are mass timber plants in Dothan, Alabama and Fayetteville, Arkansas, so the wood can be locally sourced, saving time and environmental concerns associated with long-distance shipping.

Longo said he hopes that more builders adopt mass timber, which will drive its prices to become more competitive. “We’re likely see more and more mass timber construction in the future,” he added.

A home, not a house

The architectural plan for 777 Brookridge covers 7,272 square feet with six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, media room, gym, office, guest house and two-car garage.

Other key features include a roof-top garden with Midtown and Downtown skyline views and a dining room with a cathedral ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows. The buyer will decide on finishes and options with builder Vince Longo. 

Lauderdale said he always tries to design buildings that are unique. “This house has a European sensibility. It’s light, airy and homey. There’s a courtyard with a guest house, and everything is open with good airflow for passive cooling,” he said.

“The wood brings aspects of nature inside, but it’s done with a contemporary spin. Everything combined makes it much more comfortable, so it’s more of a home than a house.”

Marketing the home is Wes Vawter with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty. These days, so many of the houses being built all look alike, he stated. “This one is tasteful and environmentally friendly. It’s a good, quality product,” Vawter said. 

Vawter added that the one challenge he’s faced is that the new home has been difficult to price just because it is so cutting-edge. “There’s currently nothing else like it in Atlanta,” he said.

Crane added that he believes the mass timber of 777 Brookridge will create “an iconic, radiant house of extraordinary design, style, and comfort, positioned in harmony with the neighborhood, unique in its warm wood exteriors and interiors, built upon timeless elements of image and architecture.”

For Lauderdale, the potential of mass timber and its impact goes well beyond the house. “My goal is to make a better community through design,” he said. 

Learn more at 777brookridge.com.

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean is a freelance writer and editor based in metro Atlanta.