WholeTrees Structures and KPFF Wins NCSEA “Outstanding Structure of the Year”

Engineering Firm KPFF, in Partnership with WholeTrees Structures, wins NCSEA “Outstanding Structure of the Year” Structural Engineering Excellence Award for innovative 2-story Children’s Museum of Eau Claire

The award recognizes innovation, creativity, and engineering achievement in the structural engineering profession

Photo: Kleine Leonard
SEATTLE, November 29, 2023 – On November 9, 2023, The National Council of Structural Engineers Associations awarded the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire (CMEC) the Outstanding Structure in the New Building under $30M category and the 2023 Outstanding Structure of the Year at the Structural Engineering Excellence (SEE) Awards ceremony.

Accepting the awards was the Seattle-based engineering firm, KPFF, whose ground-breaking engineering work made the first ever application of mixed species Structural Round Timber (SRT) in a heavily loaded two-story structural system a reality through their innovation and problem-solving capabilities.

In addition to KPFF, the highly innovative building was a result of collaboration across multiple partners – from the visionary leaders at the museum, to world-renowned architecture firm Steinberg Hart, and WholeTrees Structures, a Wisconsin-based company that prefabricated the structural systems made of round timber and successfully turned soaring trees from carbon smart forests into dramatic structural columns and beams.

The award signals the growing potential for the use of SRT in modern building design. The structural system of the museum consists of round timber columns and joist and girder trusses in place of conventional steel, demonstrating the material’s multi-story potential. SRT trusses support a heavy concrete floor and the roof alongside Ash and Sugar Maple columns carrying loads up to 200 kips.

“CMEC opens the door to a world of possibility for SRT to replace more conventional steel and engineered lumber framing systems in multi-story structures,” said KPFF’s Erik Lofthus.

“We are thrilled that the NCSEA recognizes the outstanding nature of this project, and the role structural trees can play in improving the ways we manage our forest resources.” WholeTrees Structures CoFounder & CEO Amelia Baxter added, “Trees, over hundreds of millions of years, have brilliantly engineered their height, strength and beauty – this project’s team has applied custom steel connections and an eye toward whimsy to achieve something a fraction as amazing as the trees themselves and the forests from whence they were harvested.”

Bringing the building from design to reality was a process of connecting Steinberg Hart with foresters from both coasts and the Midwest. Port Blakely of Washington donated the Douglas-fir truss material and 7 Islands Land Company of Maine donated the stunning 30’ maple branched atrium columns, while the town of Sheboygan, WI, donated the ash columns.

“Port Blakely was thrilled to be a partner in this exciting project,” said Mike Warjone, President of US Forestry for Port Blakely. “It just doesn’t get any better than seeing our trees showcased in such a beautiful and sustainable space where kids can grow and learn. That’s what stewardship is all about.”

The use of SRT was just part of Steinberg Hart’s architect and Partner Malcolm Holzman’s artistic and sustainable vision of the project. In addition to the groundbreaking use of SRT, carbon neutrality was supported by the use of sixteen geothermal wells for heating and cooling, electrification from 308 rooftop PV panels, and the absence of the use of gas in the building.

“Architecture is a form of exploration,” said Holzman, “The Children’s Museum comes with a visual guide, whereby trees embody the familiar while making the structural support system visible. Usually invisible, this complex network of wood and steel becomes understandable for young people.”

Beyond being recognized at the SEE Awards, CMEC has been celebrated by the local community of Eau Claire, WI. The use of innovative materials and creative design have brought inviting play and exploration to attendees since its opening in 2022.

“The building project has been truly amazing for our entire region.” said Mike Lee, Interim CEO, CMEC, “We have already served over 100,000 people this year, an increase of 135% from the peak at our previous location – with much more engagement not just among the kids, but the entire family, with the facility and exhibits – something we certainly attribute to the natural feel of the new space.”

For more information on the 2023 SEE Awards, view the NCSEA’s press release of all 2023 recipients. For more information on the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire, please visit the museum’s website or this case study from WholeTrees Structures.

About KPFF: Founded in Seattle in 1960, KPFF Consulting Engineers is one of the largest and most established structural and civil engineering firms on the West Coast. At KPFF, we partner with our project teams collaboratively to push boundaries and elevate the work we do in a constant pursuit of excellence. We believe that engineering is about providing a healthy, vibrant community that is truly sustainable. We are committed to reducing the carbon footprint of each project, and we thrive on designing innovative solutions.

About WholeTrees Structures: WholeTrees uses the inherent strength of Structural Round Timber (SRT) and millions of years of organic structural engineering to provide beautiful, affordable, sustainable, and durable biophilic structural systems that restore forests. Founded in 2007 on an off-grid forest farm in Southwest Wisconsin, the founding team brought CAD and BIM to the organic shapes of SRT, fabricated ground-breaking, first-of-its-kind structural systems across the country and launched sustainable forestry partnerships to become the National leader and unrivaled expert in engineering unmilled timber for commercial construction.

Media contact:
Michelle DiLello
Blue Medium