This observation tower, made by Virginia Tech students and faculty, combines cutting-edge wood research with innovative offsite assembly methods. This project completed in rural Virginia in 2021 illustrates a unique approach to low-carbon design and construction through the use of the university's interdisciplinary research.

In 2018, the riverside town of Radford, Va. approached Virginia Tech – a nearby public research university – to help design a new train observation tower that would allow the public access to views of the Adjacent New River and over a historically significant railroad bridge. One of the main objectives of the project? Use clean-tech, low-carbon building products to pave the way for a greener industrial future for the city. 

After years of research in several departments of the university, the custom-developed hardwood cross-laminated timber (HCLT) product uses low-grade yellow poplar lumber from overabundant hardwood-dominated forests. The bespoke HCLT product not only outperformed all other CLTs available on the U.S. market - especially those made from softwoods - but the raw materials for the product were also sourced and recycled within a two-hundred-mile radius of the site. project. 

The New River Train Observation Tower is the first project in the world to use HCLT modular construction methods in a permanent building, which required unique and careful detailing to make the system cantilever and panels are protected from water and shelving during construction. The project is also unique in the world as an example of structural elements exposed to the exterior and made of laminated hardwood. Each screw hole has been impregnated with liquid wax, then the entire outer casing has been coated with a mixture of linseed oil and natural pine tar to protect it from UV damage, heat and humidity.

This project is the first permanent HCLT building permitted in the United States. And, through a research and development process that has enabled the custom recycling of low-value local materials, it sets a benchmark for low-carbon, research-based sustainable construction.

A great technical feat, which opens the way to a more sustainable future.


Visuals ©: Kay Edge and Edward Becker


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