Mass Timber Emerges as Preferred Construction in New Hampshire Office Market

If you’ve spent time in quaint New England cottages, you know that unique indoor environment can conjure feelings of warmth, happiness and comfort. Exposed wood inside of houses provides sensations of coziness and security that have been emulated in biophilic design —  a term referring to the human connection with nature — across America.

So why hasn’t this warm and healthy feeling spread to America’s offices?

We’ve seen the mill brick buildings and the steel and concrete office developments scattered along America’s highways and suburban areas. Some of us may have even worked in them. They are reliable, cost-effective and provide tenants with the basic amenities needed to get their work done.

Thomas Farrelly, Cushman & Wakefield

But the American office building is changing. Today’s companies demand more for their employees and are recognizing that comfortable offices with exceptional amenities are quickly becoming the new standard to attract top, young talent.

According to Cushman & Wakefield’s 2019 “CRE Perspectives on Coworking” report, nearly two-thirds of companies are utilizing some form of coworking space. Look at the most popular coworking spaces in the country — many provide biophilic design elements to keep occupants happy.

In early October, building owner Farley White, along with Cushman & Wakefield, was joined by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and other officials and business representatives to break ground on a first-of-its-kind office building at Pease International Tradeport on the town/city line of Portsmouth and Newington.

The Arboretum Pease will be constructed using mass timber, in which the entire building frame and decking will be made of wood instead of steel and concrete. When completed, the property will be the first office building of this type in the Granite State.

Why is mass timber generating buzz in the real estate and architectural worlds?

Buildings that utilize mass timber frames are more aesthetically pleasing and better for both the environment and the health of the people working inside them. They are safe, durable and rich in amenities. Buildings using mass timber construction take less time to build and are lighter without compromising any structural integrity. The combination of a luxurious building with a reduction in carbon footprint is pushing this type of construction to the forefront of real estate development.

As the industry becomes more cognizant about the rate of carbon emissions from concrete and steel construction, developers are looking for ways to cut down without sacrificing quality of construction. Mass timber is proving to be a viable solution, as it only requires a third of the embodied energy of steel and concrete construction.

Studies have shown using wood technologies such as mass timber could have the same emissions control effect as taking 2 million cars off the road.  When wood is sustainably harvested for mass timber, the carbon is sequestered in the material used to construct the building for the life of the building.

About 40 percent of Earth’s carbon dioxide emissions stem from the construction industry, which means choosing wood technologies can have a major impact on environmental health. Ultimately, mass timber buildings provide reduced noise, better air quality and increased HVAC efficiency.

Emissions benefits aside, another important factor in the development of an office building is whether companies will want to call it home. The building at 90 Arboretum Drive is an example of how to develop the office of the future today. The property will offer 72,000 square feet, a parking ratio of five cars per 1,000 square feet, passenger elevators and a full-service cafeteria.

These interior features are all near walking and running trails, Pease golf course and the local highway system. It takes 10 minutes to get to downtown Portsmouth, 45 minutes to Manchester and an hour to Boston and Portland, Maine. This accessibility, paired with the open interior design and eye-popping exterior, makes this a highly attractive building for businesses.

Biophilic design has been proven to increase the well-being of office occupants, and timber specifically evokes a warm comfortable feeling. Wood design has an ability to bridge old and new,  to create spaces with high ceilings and access to natural light mixed with the authenticity of a wood structure that one can see, smell and feel.

If you’re in the business of finding homes for companies that are looking to create and innovate within their respective fields, why not offer an office building with health benefits and innovation built into its frame? Ask any CEO or president of any company: “Wouldn’t you rather be in a building that offers an environment of better well-being for your employees?”

Mass timber buildings are increasingly popping up in America’s suburban neighborhoods and in select large cities. Developers are studying ways to build faster and taller while experimenting with new shapes and ways to display the beautiful timber frame.

In addition, mass timber developers are winning more projects and getting them done on time. Responsible development and management are a team effort. From financing to construction to leasing, taking steps to minimize the environmental impact of a project is becoming not only commonplace, but requisite.

It’s rare to see a real estate trend evolving before your eyes. But as mass timber becomes a more highly sought-after method of construction, it is clear the office of the future — and now in New Hampshire at The Arboretum Pease — will have frames made of wood.

— By Thomas P. Farrelly, executive director, Cushman & Wakefield. This article first appeared in the November/December issue of Northeast Real Estate Business magazine. 

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