2023 Conference Session: Mass Timber - Problem or Solution?

Mass Timber: Problem or Solution
Roundtable Discussion

This panel session is not meant to be for or against "Mass Timber", but more about public awareness of the difference between natural timber and manufactured timber framing, impact on natural resources, traditional timber framers, and the Timber Framers Guild. Attendees will learn more about the meaning of mass timber, its history, the difference between "natural" timber and mass timber, and the difference between shop cut and manufactured timber buildings.

About the Speakers
Sandy Bennett:
Sandy Bennett is president of Blue Ridge Timberwrights, based in Christiansburg, Virginia, building "tremendous structures around the country" for more than 25 years. He also serves on the Guild board.

Ben Brungraber:
Ben Brungraber, Ph.D., P.E., holds a Master of Science from Colorado State in Timber Structures and a Ph.D. in Mortise and Tenon Joinery from Stanford University. In his early years, Ben worked in the construction industry after acquiring his civil engineering degree from Cornell. His jobs included inspecting the concrete used in the Washington, DC, subway, and helping American Bridge build steel high-rise structures, long-span bridges, and steel mills. Tired of the bureaucracy involved with massive projects, he accepted an offer to teach at Colorado State, where his final project was a panelized and prefabricated timber-covered bridge.

Ready to take his show on the road, Ben was hired as lead engineer for a New York firm that designed log homes and manufactured housing. There he became a part of the revival of timber framing in North America, a passion that he took to his next post teaching at Bucknell, then later as a fellowship recipient at Stanford University. During his next three years as a teacher and Ph.D. candidate, he learned the niceties of surveying, design, and construction management.

With degree and two new sons in tow, Ben headed for the East Coast, where two years of teaching at the University of Connecticut finally got the professor bug out of his system; he dived into the business world as head engineer at Benson Woodworking Co, where he was able to help elevate engineering standards within the fledging timber framing industry. During his twenty years with Benson, Ben oversaw the engineering of more than $100 million in timber frame construction, and served on the Board of Directors for the Timber Frame Guild of North America.

Recognizing the time was ripe to start his own venture, Ben reconnected with his former student and colleague, Mack Magee, and started Fire Tower, which quickly evolved into one of the timber frame industry’s most ambitious and respected design and engineering firms.

Rudy Christian:
Rudy R. Christian is a founding member and past president of the Timber Framers Guild, founding member and past president of Friends of Ohio Barns, founding member and past Executive Director of the Preservation Trades Network, and a founding member of the Traditional Timberframe Research and Advisory Group and the International Trades Education Initiative. His experience includes national and international speaking engagements and instructing educational workshops as well as publication of various articles about historic conservation. An article entitled “Conservation of Historic Building Trades: A Timber Framer’s View” was published in the APT Bulletin, vol. XXXIII, No1, and his collaborative work with author Allen Noble entitled "The Barn: A Symbol of Ohio" has been published on the internet. In November 2000, the Preservation Trades Network awarded Rudy the Askins Achievement Award, for excellence in the field of historic preservation.

Rudy’s educational background includes the study of structural engineering at both General Motors Institute in Flint Michigan and Akron University in Ohio. He and his son Carson have also studied historic compound roof layout and computer modeling at the Gewerbe Akademie in Rotweil, Germany. He and his wife Laura Saeger Christian were adjunct professors at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, and are approved workshop instructors for the Timber Framers Guild. Rudy’s focus on the business of timber framing began in 1982.

Rudy’s professional experience as President of Christian & Son, Inc. includes the reconstruction of the historic “Big Barn” at Malabar Farm State Park near Mansfield, Ohio, and relocation of the 19th-century Crawford Horse Barn in Newark, Ohio. These projects featured “hand raisings” which were open to the public and attracted a total of 130,000 interested spectators. He also led a crew of timber framers at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival Masters of the Building Arts program in the recreation and raising of an 18th-century carriage house frame on the National Mall in Washington DC. Roy Underhill’s “Woodright’s Shop” filmed the event for PBS and Roy participated in the raising. Christian & Son’s work includes working with a team of specialists to relocate Thomas Edison’s #11 laboratory building from the Henry Ford Museum to West Orange, New Jersey, where it was originally built, and the restoration of the Mansfield Blockhouse, a hewn log structure built by the US military in 1812. During the summer of 2006, Rudy, his son Carson, and his wife Laura were the lead instructors and conservation specialists for the Field School at Mt. Lebanon Shaker Village during which the 1838 timber frame granary was restored. Since May 2015 Rudy and Laura have been working as consultants to the World Monuments Fund in the restoration of the Golden Palace Monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar. In the summer of 2017, they reconstructed the historic timber frame belfry at Glendale Cemetery in Akron, Ohio.

Michael Cuba:
Michael's career in restoration timber framing began while working at the Institute for Social Ecology with Seth Kelley. After a few years in the field, they founded Knobb Hill Joinery, focusing on preservation and restoration timber framing while occasionally designing and cutting new structures. He has spent a great deal of time documenting historic buildings, teaching classes, and demonstrating traditional timber framing methods. Now based in southeastern Pennsylvania, his company, Transom Historic Preservation Consulting, offers dendrochronology sampling services, historic documentation, and research. He is an active member of the Traditional Timber Frame Research Advisory Group and serves with Adam Miller as editor of Timber Framing, which keeps him engaged with members and their work in a meaningful way. Michael currently serves as clerk of the Timber Framers Guild board of directors.

Joe Miller:
Joe Miller, PhD, PE, PEng, is a structural engineer specializing in the design and engineering of timber framer structures. As partner with Fire Tower Engineered Timber, he heads up the Michigan office located near the shore of Lake Superior. Catching the timber framing bug early in life when helping restore the familial homestead, Joe gained academic experience through graduate engineering degrees in mortise and tenon joinery as well as key-laminated timber beams. He had hands-on experience working with several timber frame companies, both in the office and in the shop, before working as a consulting engineer, licensed throughout the United States and Canada.

John Miller:
John Miller is president of Cascade Joinery, a design-build company that crafts timber work for a wide range of buildings—homes, retail buildings, churches, community centers, restaurants, office buildings, and public pavilions. In addition to the fabrication and installation of crafted timberwork, they provide specialized and creative structural timber engineering, connection detail design, and guidance for timber specifications, design consultation, and value engineering. Cascade Joinery is also expert in SIPs (structural insulated panels), both in design and in-field installation. John got the woodworking bug early. Then in 1987, he saw his first timber frame building. “It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.” John runs the business side of Cascade and in his spare time builds guitars to keep his hands on wood.

Kyle Murphy:
Kyle Murphy lives in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he has been timber framing for 14 years and has owned and operated Falling Acorn Timber Frames for 13 years. He was first introduced to timber framing while working for a millwright, restoring historic gristmills. Through this work, he fell in love with the beauty, craft, and longevity that timber frames offer.

Soon after, he attended Fox Maple School of Traditional Building and subsequently other workshops up and down the east coast devoted to continuing to learn the traditional craft. He served as a project manager for the Hidden Trace Farm Community Building Project in 2020 as well as an instructor on several other Guild projects and has taught at the Heartwood School.


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