- Top Projects – 1st Place Mixed-Use, Daily Journal of Commerce
- 2021 Excellence in Engineering Award – $10-40M Category, Structural Engineers Association of Oregon (SEAO)
THE CANYONS AT A GLANCE
- Completion: November 20, 2020
- Size: 110,000 square feet
- Units: 70 barrier-free units; studio, one- and two-bedroom options
- Location: 3450 N Williams Ave, Portland, Oregon 90702
- Owner: Hoosiers Corporation and Kaiser Group, Inc.
- Architect: Path Architecture
- Developer: Kaiser Group, Inc.
- General Contractor: R&H Construction
- Structural Engineer: Catena Consulting Engineers
Located in North Portland’s Williams District, The Canyons is a one-of-a-kind mixed-use development offering a vibrant urban lifestyle for residents of all ages and abilities. Designed with sustainability and accessibility in mind, The Canyons was constructed using cross-laminated timber and is home to barrier-free living units, ample building amenities, a unique central atrium, an underground parking structure and more.
Nestled between NE Ivy and NE Fremont on N Williams Avenue, the 110,000 s.f. development is essentially two buildings, united by a six-story open-air atrium featuring zig-zagging CLT corridors, hence its name: The Canyons. In addition to residential units and ground-ﬂoor retail space, The Canyons also features The Alley, an 11-unit commercial marketplace designed to unite building residents, community members and local small businesses in one central location.
Designed with Residents in Mind
Unique in design, The Canyons elegantly combines eco-friendly construction with accessible design, aimed at meeting the unique needs of both active adults and those with limited mobility. Ben Kaiser, owner and principal at Kaiser + Path, was motivated by his father to create a fully accessible building that exists within Portland’s urban core.
As a result, The Canyons is neither a standard apartment building nor an independent living facility but instead is a hybrid living environment aimed at creating a community-focused urban living experience for people of all abilities. The six-story building is entirely barrier-free, including all of the building’s 70 living units. The apartments range in size from studio to two bedrooms and all have adjustable kitchen counters, are pre-wired for automatic door openers, have wider ADA-friendly doors and feature curbless showers. Each light-ﬁlled unit also offers Energy Star appliances, nine-foot high ceilings and wood-centric design proven to lower stress, increase productivity and improve feelings of well-being. In addition to atrium-facing entries, each unit has expansive windows and its own individual heating and cooling unit, ensuring fresh, clean air for all residents. Finally, some units offer Juliet balconies as an additional perk for building residents.
The Canyons’ amenities include a Wellness Room, a Fitness Center, a community room/lounge, secured bike storage and a 24-hour package locker – all meeting or exceeding ADA standards. The building also has a secure underground parking with 32 parking spaces, including accessible parking spots.
In addition to barrier-free units and amenities, The Canyons has a full-time onsite concierge available to assist residents, provide white glove services and emergency assistance if necessary. The Wellness Room intends to host onsite services in a post-COVID environment including physical therapy, ﬂu shots, nail care and more. North Williams Avenue offers nearby restaurants, shops and service providers but The Canyons is also located less than a half mile from Legacy Emanuel, one of Portland’s two level-one trauma centers, and is across the street from a New Seasons Market – a grocery store able to deliver hot, prepared food right to residents’ doors. The combination of in-building amenities, accessibility and nearby conveniences makes The Canyons a perfect home for those with limited mobility or those looking to age in an active, urban community.
The Alley, tucked behind the mixed-use building, is an open-air marketplace consisting of 11 micro commercial spaces intended for retail use. Modeled after Japan’s narrow, bustling Yokocho alleys, which are packed with eateries and small shops, The Canyons Alley also features a row of small spaces, designed for makers, eateries and other community businesses, that open to The Canyons’ ground-ﬂoor retail spaces and café. The result is an intimate, engaging passageway where residents can eat, shop and stroll while supporting local small businesses as well as connecting with neighbors from the building and outside community members.
Cross-laminated Timber at The Canyons
The Canyons includes numerous innovative construction features, the greatest of which is the incorporation
of cross-laminated timber (CLT) in unexpected and pioneering ways. In addition to using CLT on the building’s structure, The Canyons features iconic zig-zagging CLT bridge in the building’s open-air corridors.
Utilizing CLT offers a variety of beneﬁts to both the community, residents and the project team.
It’s sustainable: The carbon emissions that typical construction practices and materials can create was a high priority for the development team to combat. Constructing with CLT helps to offset the carbon footprint because panels can be made from young trees, 10” or less in diameter, that have already consumed a large amount of carbon in their lifecycle. Trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, pulling it out of the atmosphere and storing it within the wood ﬁber. When trees are processed into timber and used in construction, the carbon remains trapped in the wood, locked away for the life of the building. We estimate that the CLT in The Canyons stores about 423 tons of carbon.
Additionally, wood from damaged or diseased trees that often add fuel to forest wildﬁres can be sandwiched in the middle layers of the panels. Thinning these trees from dense forests gives wildﬁres less fuel to burn. Appearance-grade lumber is used on the outside of the CLT panels for its beauty. Finally, CLT takes far less energy to produce, transport and assemble than concrete or steel.
It’s durable: CLT is produced by gluing together solid-sawn lumber in perpendicular layers to create sturdy, stable panels up to a foot thick. CLT is also one of the most seismically resilient building materials available which is an important factor for buildings in the Paciﬁc Northwest. The joints between CLT boards allow buildings to dissipate energy efficiently, minimizing structural damage during an earthquake. Because of the thickness associated with large structural wood elements, mass timber is naturally ﬁre resistant. When burned, the charred layer on the outside creates a protective seal, preventing the inner layers of wood from burning.
It’s faster: In addition to the positive sustainability and durability elements, building with this product is also beneﬁcial in terms of schedule and budget. In comparison to concrete, building with CLT at The Canyons saved over a week per ﬂoor during vertical construction. This faster, more efficient CLT installation process can be seen in the timelapse below. The reduction in schedule also led to cost savings and increased efficiency for subcontracting trades that followed framing.
It’s beautiful: Together with the advantages to the environment and to the project, using CLT provides several beneﬁts to residents at The Canyons. The CLT can be seen throughout the building including within each unit. All units feature a beautiful exposed wood ceiling that brings warmth and a natural element into each apartment. Wood is known to have a relaxing effect on people, providing a sense of calm in apartments which is especially beneﬁcial in a COVID-era environment where residents are working from their homes. In The Canyons, the wood invites the beauty of the Paciﬁc Northwest indoors and into each residents’ living spaces.
Building Technology Brings CLT to Life
Our project team utilized extensive Building Information Modeling (BIM) and REVIT modeling during both preconstruction and construction for The Canyons.
Modeling The Canyons offered the beneﬁt of quality control, veriﬁcation when integrating subcontractors’ systems, and was a more helpful platform to utilize when laying out the building footprint. Our 3D model was designed to coordinate with our CLT fabricator, Structurlam. This fabricator brought a strong working history with Kaiser + Path to the table and was a seamless ﬁt with our project team.
Structurlam, based in Canada, utilized a computer numerical control (CNC) machine to cut the CLT panels. This machine had the ability to pre-drill all mechanical, electrical, plumbing and ﬁre (MEPF) penetrations, which saved our on-site team a signiﬁcant amount of time.
Because CLT panels were prefabricated off site, our model was used to ensure that the MEP systems would align with the structure when it arrived on site. R&H worked with subcontractors to layout nearly 1,200 penetrations on the 3D model that coordinated with Structurlam’s CNC machine. Utilizing the CNC machine and R&H’s 3D model ensured that assembling the panels was seamless.
Neighborhood and Jobsite Constraints
The Canyons is strategically located in the heart of the North Williams District, within a quick walk of restaurants, shops and other neighborhood amenities. While the location provides a noteworthy benefit to building residents, construction on a tight site in a busy neighborhood does not come without significant challenges. The Canyons’ constrained urban site has both residential and commercial neighbors on all sides and the building is on a block with other developments including the Carbon 12 mixed-use building next door. Additionally, both N Williams Avenue and NE Fremont Street are arterial roads with active pedestrian, vehicular and public transit traffic. Each of these items comes with unique hurdles our team had to overcome both in preconstruction and during construction.
To mitigate these challenges, R&H paid careful attention to parking, staging and site logistics including material delivery. R&H procured access to a neighboring site to use for the field office, parking, deliveries and material staging. In order to be able to avoid street closure or interruptions to pedestrian or vehicle traffic, R&H utilized a tower crane with a longer boom so that the team was able to pick many building materials from the neighboring site, with the exception of some of the heavier materials such as the CLT panels. R&H’s final tower crane boom was 50 feet longer than what would have typically been needed for a project of this size.
Constructing an Open-Air Atrium
Another challenge that arose with The Canyons was the construction of the open-air atrium. In a typical apartment building, designers would route the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection system through the building’s main corridor with a pathway for entry into each unit. However, The Canyons was designed with an open-air atrium with exposed zigzagging CLT panels that didn’t allow for the MEPF systems to be placed in their traditional locations.
During preconstruction, R&H, Kaiser + Path and our design-build MEPF subcontractors – Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning, Prairie Electric, Tapani Plumbing and Blackstone Fire Protection – collaborated on an innovative solution that allowed the building atrium to be constructed without the having the main lines in the corridor. The creative solution was to install the systems in a loop around the building corridor rather than a central line through the corridor itself. This was executed by installing a sheet rock dropped ceiling within the entry of each unit that contains the MEPF systems.
Atrium CLT Panels
Another challenge that was unique to The Canyons and required mitigation is the design of the zig-zagging CLT panels in the building atrium. The seven-layer CLT panels that span from one side of the atrium to the other do so at a skewed angle, and also support the walkways that span between them. The angle, plus the added asymmetric loading, creates a structural force within the panel called “torsional shear.” To visualize this force, imagine a dynamic twisting motion, like wringing out a towel. At the time of the project, there were no standard values to use to calculate this force in the panels, though Kaiser + Path and Catena Consulting Engineers had done modeling investigations and determined the panels met the strength needed to resist it.
To permit the project, however, real, project specific testing was required. Kaiser + Path designed the test, confirmed the procedure would meet the city’s requirements, and ordered two full size, typical panel specimens from Structurlam. The panels were cut to exactly the shape they would be installed at The Canyons. They were shipped to the Tall Wood Institute at Oregon State University and subjected to tests that mimicked the forces that would be inflicted in the real project, as well as 2x, 2.5x and 3x the forces. Teams measured the deflection under these loads, and the panels’ recovery 24 hours after the load was removed. The recovery needed to pass the test was 75% of the total measured max deflection. Both panels recovered to around 90% and allowed for use of the panels in The Canyons. The result is a striking but durable design that allows residents to open their doors to fresh air and see their neighbors above and below them in a corridor that will stand the test of time.
COVID-19 and 2020 Wildfires
Like all other construction projects, The Canyons was impacted by COVID-19. At the beginning of the pandemic in Oregon, R&H pivoted quickly to change to our adapting environment. We were industry leaders who developed a Plan, Prepare, Respond strategy to safely operate our project well ahead of local AGC or OR-OSHA guidance. Our response to COVID-19 has included forming a COVID-19 Task Force, creating a COVID-19 Response Plan, enhancing both internal and external communications and launching a COVID-19 resource page where team members, clients and subcontractors can find our plan, documents and signage needed to ensure safety on all projects. Despite building during the early months of the pandemic, a time filled with ever-changing rules and guidelines, there was minimal impact on the project due to COVID-19.
While the entire Pacific Northwest was impacted by the 2020 wildfires, The Canyons had unique circumstances that made the project more susceptible to damage and setbacks from the fires. The Canyons was in the final stages of construction when the wildfires broke out and brought the Pacific Northwest to
a halt as we were enshrouded in a blanket of heavy smoke. While the design of The Canyons would typically provide for increased air flow and access to fresh air, the nature of the open-air atrium and outdoor marketplace created a significant challenge for R&H and our subcontracting partners. Unlike many other apartments with enclosed corridors, the open-air atrium meant that tradesworkers needed to go outside in order to move between living units, therefore putting crew members and the building at risk to smoke exposure.
The Alley marketplace was also in its ﬁnal stages of construction at the time of the wildﬁres. Similar to the residential portion of The Canyons, the design of The Alley meant that tradesworkers needed to go outside in order to move between the commercial units. Due to these circumstances, crews were forced to stop work until the air quality returned to a safe level. While the wildﬁres were beyond our control, crews worked hard to make up for lost time once we were able to return to the site.
Meeting Budget & Schedule Goals
The Canyons was designed and constructed with a premium structural system of cross-laminated timber. The resulting cost meant that our team was tasked with identifying other ways to decrease project budget without sacriﬁcing design aesthetics, quality or the goals of the Kaiser + Path team. In collaboration with Kaiser + Path and our subcontracting partners, R&H led a value engineering process that resulted in a savings of over $3,000,000. Some of this most signiﬁcant value engineering (VE) efforts are detailed on the following page.
CLT panel thickness: To bring down the cost of the CLT, the R&H preconstruction team worked with Catena’s structural engineers to develop an alternative bearing wall configuration that turned non-load bearing walls into load bearing walls. This new configuration allowed us to reduce CLT panel thickness in some areas from 175mm to 139mm, therefore creating cost savings due to reduced fiber.
Alternate unit ventilation strategy:
In a typical apartment building, there are a variety of exhaust strategies. One strategy is a vertical ventilation system that sends exhaust from each unit
up through the building and out through the roof. This system, although more expensive due to increased materials, allows for a more aesthetically pleasing building exterior. Another option utilizes sidewall ventilation within each unit which saves project dollars due to decreased building material and a shorter distance for air, but also is typically less aesthetically pleasing because it requires large exhaust panels on the building exterior.
The aesthetics of The Canyons were very important to the Kaiser + Path team which meant they initially wanted to pursue a vertical exhaust system even though it was a more expensive option. During the value engineering process, R&H worked with our design-build mechanical subcontractor, Jacobs Heating & Air Conditioning, to design a sidewall exhaust system that conceals the ventilation grills within the architecture. The final design is a more aesthetically pleasing exhaust vent that lives in the bump outs of the pilasters, which ultimately met the needs of both the architect and the project budget.
The original design of The Canyons called for a true three-coat stucco system over the majority of the building skin. In an effort to save project dollars, we adopted a value engineering solution that involved a hybrid approach where less visible elevations and locations that were more broken up utilized a less expensive cement board and skim coat stucco solution while maintaining the more expensive three-coat system at the larger expanses.
Elevations and configuration of the basement:
Another way the project team looked to save money during the value engineering stage was through the reduction of elevation within the building’s basement and parking garage. Working with the MEPF design-build team, we developed alternate MEPF routing strategies that allowed for the garage depth to be reduced by one foot while maintaining required ADA height clearances. This shallower garage solution had a cascading effect of cost savings through reduced excavation, shoring and structural concrete. The team also reconfigured the parking scheme to move one of the basement walls in 6’ to allow a shift to layback excavation on one side of the dig. These changes to the basement design resulted in a cost savings of over $200,000.
Lighting package review:
One specific area with a large allocation of budget dollars was The Canyons’ lighting package. During the value engineering stage, our design-build electrical subcontractor, Prairie Electric, reviewed the lighting package to identify fixtures that met performance and aesthetic intent but were more cost-effective solutions. This review resulted in a savings of $156,000.
While COVID and wildfires provided unforeseen challenges for our team, we were consistently looking for ways to increase efficiency onsite to speed schedule and reduce costs while ensuring the safety and health of all our employees and trade partners. Despite delays that affected schedule and budget, the overall project was delivered in line with the entire team’s expectations for a quality, longstanding development.
Commitment to Quality
CLT Protection Plan
One of the main aspects of building with CLT is creating a plan to protect the panels from excess moisture as well as staining or damage from dirty or contaminated water. Prior to installing the CLT, the R&H project team created a Moisture and Finish Management Plan that covered five major areas: sealers at timber elements, staining prevention measures, moisture control, dry-out steps and protection of exposed surfaces. Steps within the plan to protect the CLT panels included: sealing the panel ends in the factory, not allowing raw steel elements in the building prior to dry in, requiring that all nails and fasteners were galvanized, sealing pipes prior to install and more. In addition, crews put in extra effort to keep excess water from pooling on the deck and used a 3M moisture barrier at the seams of the panels. Once the structure was complete, crews used heat to support the building during the three-week dry-out process. The final panels are free of staining and damage, ensuring their beauty for decades to come.
At R&H, we believe that quality is as much a result of culture as it is a product of process and controls. Our project teams take quality personally, and we foster an environment in which all team members are encouraged and inspired to do their best work. We do this by engaging trade professionals, designers and craftspeople to extensively pre-plan their work and offer insight, as collaborative professionals, into the specific details to create a high-quality product. We find that this level of cooperation and shared ownership promotes pride in work and leads to more successful projects.
To ensure the highest quality of building at The Canyons, R&H had dedicated staff committed to ensuring quality. Our team utilized PlanGrid for quality control and to execute our punchlisting program. With PlanGrid, crews were able to take multiple photos through all stages of construction and store them in the program based on location in the building. We’re able to share access with subcontractors, ownership teams and the architect to ensure all project team members are on the same page and have the same expectations for quality.
For each project, R&H develops specific protocols for multiple elements of construction like building envelope, wood framing and window install. We hold preconstruction meetings with subcontracting partners, the design team and project consultants to make sure it’s a true team effort and everyone understands the expectations.
We also developed two-story mockups at The Canyons to test building materials and installation techniques to ensure the highest quality building for our clients.
The Canyons has brought a new sense of vibrancy to North Williams Avenue. This one-of-a-kind development goes beyond what’s required to create a lively, sustainable and accessible living option for Portlanders of all ages and levels of mobility. Pushing innovation on every level, the resulting development is an asset to the Portland community.