MassTimber@MSU, MI DNR Host 2023 Michigan Mass Timber Update: Breaking New Ground in Detroit

The 2023 Michigan Mass Timber Update: Breaking New Ground convened more than 150 people engaged in Michigan’s mass timber ecosystem to share key updates, and identify priorities, next steps for 2024.

Person speaking at a podium with their arms up in the air.
Sandra Lupien, Director of MassTimber@MSU, gives opening remarks at the 2023 Michigan Mass Timber Update: Breaking New Ground in Detroit. Photo by Rebecca Cook.

Produced by MassTimber@MSU in collaboration with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), with through a grant awarded by U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovations Grant, the Michigan Mass Timber Update is an annual opportunity for anyone engaged in mass timber in Michigan to get a healthy dose of inspiration about the growing mass timber momentum in our state, gathering new ideas, motivation, and connections to help advance their mass timber projects and initiatives in the new year.

More than 150 architects, engineers, construction managers, installers, foresters, policymakers, academics, and experts in workforce development gathered on December 5, 2023, for the second-annual event. Attendees arriving at the event site— the Union Carpenters and Millwrights Training Center in Detroit—were immediately treated to a beautiful entryway and lobby featuring massive glue-laminated timber columns and beams. They enjoyed networking conversations over breakfast sponsored by Walbridge.

Sandra Lupien, Director, MassTimber@MSU, facilitated the day, kicking off the event with a warm welcome followed by opening remarks from Tom Lutz, President, Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters & Millwrights, and Brenda Haskill, Forest Marketing and Outreach Specialist for DNR.

Lupien then provided an overview on the state of mass timber momentum in Michigan. Notably, she reported a significant increase in a wide array of mass timber projects completed, under construction, and in development across the state—on both peninsulas. Lupien shared the following tables to communicate the status of the 45 mass timber projects MassTimber@MSU is tracking.


From there, attendees heard from nearly 30 speakers who gave lighting talks (approximately 4-minutes each) on an array of mass timber projects—including some of the 45 mentioned above—initiatives, and developments. Some highlights:

Anna Anderson (Lord Aeck Sargent) and Dave Robson (Walbridge), representing the architect and construction manager, respectively, for DNR's upcoming customer service center in Newberry highlighted two important mass timber “firsts” this project is bringing to Michigan: The U.P. project will be the first fully-mass timber structure in the state; it will also be the first to use Michigan sourced wood—red pine—in cross-laminated timber panels. The latter will demonstrate what is possible with Michigan wood, opening the doors to mass timber manufacture here.

Mass timber research and product development efforts continue to thrive and expand at both MSU and at Michigan Technological University.

In the case of the latter, Mark Rudnicki, Professor of Practice in Forest Biomaterials, discussed how MTU’sHardwood Mass Timber Institute is developing and testing an array of hardwood and hardwood/softwood hybrid mass timber layups. The work emphasizes species like red maple, typically relegated to lower-value uses, providing both opportunities to increase the value of an important Michigan tree species and for Michigan to claim a niche in hardwood mass timber product production.

MSU researchers highlighted two key mass timber research initiatives:

Mojgan Nejad, Associate Professor of Green Biomaterials shared new results of her lab’s work to develop and test mass timber adhesives and coatings made from lignin—a byproduct of the forest products and agriculture industries. Compared with the fossil fuel-based adhesives currently used in commercial mass timber products, the lignin-based alternatives are biodegradable and more sustainable; in tests Nejad and her team are conducting in partnership with Element 5, the lignin-based products are showing better adhesion—and, if commercialized, they would significantly less expensive than the adhesives manufacturers currently use.

Forestry Associate Professor Emily Huff, Assistant Professor Raju Pokharel, and PhD student Ichchha Thappa co-presented early—and promising—findings from MassTimber@MSU’s Michigan mass timber supply chain analysis and Great Lakes Region demand survey. This work, funded by Michigan DNR and targeted for completion in Spring 2024, will provide key insights to help prospective mass timber manufacturers decide where to set up shop in Michigan, and how much of what type of mass timber to make.

From left to right; Kaustubh Thakare (MSU), Shreya Ghodekar (MSU), Patrick Chouinard (Element5), Jon Stimson (Homestretch Housing), and Michaela Harms (Sterling Structural).

With Michigan facing significant shortages in housing stock, many people wonder how mass timber might help fill the gap, particularly when it comes to solutions for lower-income residents. The Michigan Mass Timber Update highlighted three very different approaches to mass timber affordable housing. First, Patrick Chouinard of Element 5 presented on the Ontario-based mass timber manufacturers multi-family affordable housing product. Jon Stimson of Homestretch Housing and Michaela Harms of Sterling Structural (a cross-laminated timber manufacturer near Chicago) talked about how they’re collaborating on several multi-unit affordable housing projects in the Grand Traverse region. And MSU Master of Construction Management students Shreya Ghodekar and Kaustubh Thakare discussed their thesis research on modular mass timber affordable housing solutions.


Demand for mass timber is growing, but its ability to go mainstream relies on an educated and skilled workforce of architects, engineers, construction managers and installers. Jerry Carlisle spoke about how the Michigan Statewide Carpenters are skilling up installers through the mass timber training program at the event site—the Union Carpenters and Millwrights Training Center in Detroit and George Berghorn, MSU Assistant Professor of Construction Management provided an update on the industry-informed mass timber curriculum modules MSU, in collaboration with Henry Ford College, is developing for update in community college and university design, engineering, construction management, and building courses.

Andrew Brisbo, Director of the State of Michigan Bureau of Construction Codes (BCC) provided a status update on the development of Michigan’s 2021 Building Code, which is to include a variety of new mass timber building types, per the 2021 International Building Code (IBC). Brisbo said BCC expects to release a draft of the code for public comment in the first quarter of 2024. In the meantime—while Michigan is still operating under its 2015 building code—some project teams are working with their local building code officials to move forward with designs bases on the 2021 IBC, which allows for taller mass timber buildings, for example. We heard updates about two of these projects, first from Emily Leestma with Muskegon’s Adelaide Pointe, a waterfront development featuring several mass timber structures—two condo buildings, a hotel, and a community building—and then from Sidney Filippis and Adam Smith with Synechdoche about Southtown, a multi-family/mixed-use project in Ann Arbor.

In addition to the projects highlighted above, participants heard about many other exciting mass timber projects in development, under construction, or completed in 2023.

In Development

Under Construction

Completed in 2023

Following these presentations, Anthony Harvey, WoodWorks’ Regional Director, shared new tools and resources available to mass timber practitioners that support the non-profit's technical assistance and education programs.

Announcement: New Michigan Mass Timber Community of Practice

Harvey was joined onstage by Berghorn and Lupien who announced the upcoming launch of the Michigan Mass Timber Community of Practice. This quarterly, virtual gathering will provide a dedicated space for Michigan mass timber designers, construction managers, installers, as well as code officials and others engaged in mass timber initiatives to receive technical assistance from the Community hosts—hosted by MassTimber@MSU, WoodWorks, and the American Wood Council—learn from their peers, and make new connections to support their work. The initiative is funded by a US Forest Service Wood Innovations Grant, and the first two-hour session will be on March 5 at 2:00 p.m. (Email to receive the log-in information.)


Scott Whitcomb, Director, Office of Public Lands, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Scott Whitcomb, Director of DNR’s Office of Public Lands ended the program on a high note, talking mass timber as a tool in the State’s kit to achieve its goal of net-zero carbon by 2050, the roadmap to which is outlined in the MI Healthy Climate Plan. Whitcomb then announced that his office, with funding from the State’s Forest Carbon Project, is investing $500,000 ($100,000/year for five years) in MassTimber@MSU to enable the continuation and expansion of efforts to advance sustainable mass timber construction and manufacture in Michigan.

At the program’s conclusion, attendees took guided tours of expansive, 125,000 square-foot Union Carpenters and Millwrights Training Center. The state-of-the art facility includes a mass timber training mock-up, which in 2023 began equipping teams of contractors to install mass timber—training that has already been put to work on several new buildings in Michigan.

After the main event, nearly two-thirds of the attendees headed to The Madison in Downtown Detroit, where they were treated to a beautiful networking working happy hour, hosted by BedrockLord Aeck Sargent, and Rothoblaas.

MassTimber@MSU thanks all of the event and happy hour sponsors, along with the event team—Brenda Haskill (DNR), Kari Divine (Renewable Resource Solutions), and Anna Heise (MSU) for making the 2023 Michigan Mass Timber Update a success. If you are interested in attending the 2024 Michigan Mass Timber Update, email Sandra Lupien at to ensure you receive an invitation.

Visit the 2023 Michigan Mass Timber page for more highlights.

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