You know those projects that end up the way they do because of the people who did them? I mean, that’s kind of all of them, sure, but in the context of an architecture blog post this truism has a bit more context: there are projects that have a designer’s fingerprints, so to speak, all over them; we know who did what.

This “Grammar of Wood” design wasn’t really one of those projects. This project was a real technical and aesthetic soup, cooked up between friend and studiomate (and LS3P alum!) Ryan Bing and me along with our teammates and comprehensive studio professors.  Or maybe it’s more of a stew, in which there are identifiable chunks of authorship that have been transformed after simmering in a hearty stock of teamwork in the architecture studio pressure cooker.  Delicious!  In short, this project was a hugely collaborative effort.

As many of the readers will know, there comes a time in architecture school when students have to get real, so to speak, and put together a project that is relatively resolved in terms of structure, code compliance, and general programmatic and aesthetic coherence: the comprehensive studio.  Our studio took place at Clemson University in the spring of 2021; the prompt for our studio’s collection of imaginary buildings was to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, much of which was razed by Hurricane Michael in 2018, and to do it using as much wood as possible.  As the title of the studio — Oriented Otherwise – implies, cross-laminated timber was our suggested muse.

Given our choice from a long list of to-be-rebuilt structures, teammates Ryan Bing, Marissa Cutry, and Sai Sreekar Chebiyyam and I decided to focus our efforts on a complex comprising five buildings: a new headquarters for the 53rd WEG, a large-aircraft maintenance hangar and a smaller fighter maintenance  hangar, an adjacent building housing the auxiliary support infrastructure, and a parking garage that also housed additional programming.

One would be correct to assume that simply programming these projects would be beyond our capabilities as students with no knowledge whatsoever of what actually happens in these spaces beyond their representation in Top Gun.  Luckily, the USAF has made available to the general public a whole list of standardized designs for many of these program-specific facilities (here, if you’re curious:; we leaned as heavily on these documents as the aforementioned movie does on its soundtrack, which is to say a lot, and probably too much in the beginning.

WBDG-Proposed Large Airframe Maintenance Hangar (

WBDG-Proposed Large Airframe Maintenance Hangar

Naturally, the quandary was this: there was little chance that we were going to, with our little working knowledge of these facilities, design anything that was both as cost-effective and as functionally efficient as what the USAF had already designed.  We could adjust the USAF’s proposed layout to accommodate the mass-timber components according to the directive of the studio, but in the context of our comprehensive studio and our knowledge that this might be our last chance to design, as students, an imaginary building unencumbered by budgetary (and many other) logistical constraints, that just didn’t feel like a project worth doing.

We’d had an idea for something that did, though: after months of respectfully dissecting the designs proposed and prescribed by USAF Facility Standards for these and similar projects, we established a new set of goals for our project: to maintain all of the stated schematic and programmatic requirements of these spaces while translating their hyper-efficient modules into a language of our own–not simply by replacing steel, concrete, and light-wood-framing components with mass-timber ones, but also by embracing the grammar and idiomatic expressions, so to speak, of mass timber’s design language and designing in styles and at scales that are directly informed by the assembly and tectonics of mass-timber components.

53rd WEG complex as reimagined by Bing, Cutry, Chebiyyam, and Floyd

Practically speaking, Ryan and I found ourselves with two complementary problems: hangars full of huge, closely-spaced structural members and a support building filled with small rooms that were difficult to justify building from mass timber.  So we did an experiment and spent a weekend trying to determine how much of the auxiliary support building’s program we could “stack” in the walls of the hangars.  Turns out, it was almost all of it, and so halfway through the semester, after months quietly contemplating a more-interesting, alternative design, Ryan and I combined our projects into what ultimately became our contribution to The Grammar of Wood: two mass timber hangars, each with an inhabitable wall that comprises both its physical and programmatic support structure.

Large-airframe maintenance hangar

Inhabitable support structure of fighter maintenance hangar

An interesting by-product of this design process and logic is that the inhabitable wall structure can exist as a stand-alone building: it doesn’t need to be tied to a hangar and is also just a prototype for a CLT building that can be assembled from a few components: large CLT bulkheads with pockets that support glulam beams that can be dropped in and removed with a crane.  There are oversized through-holes in the bulkheads, or “baffles,” as we referred to them, that permit extra maneuverability of the beams during the construction process.  The HVAC system is then plumbed through these holes.

Lamella-inspired hangar roof with support structure

Inhabitable support structure and structurally-independent “popout” space

Layup and components of inhabitable support structure

Similarly, the “pop-out” attachment that we designed to accommodate the layout of the propulsion shop is also a structurally-and-systematically-independent CLT building, albeit one of a different flavor and comprising smaller CLT panels of repeating geometries wherever possible.  Every panel in every building was designed according to the production capacity of SmartLam’s nearby Alabama facility.

Layup and components of popout space

This was a whirlwind of a project, and Ryan and I were really excited with how it turned out. Scrapping your comprehensive studio project and starting your spring break with a blank Revit project and a fresh Rhino file isn’t usually the super prudent thing to do, but there’s a magic that happens when the dumb thing to do is the smart thing to do.  Hopefully, it’ll capture the imagination of other designers and builders and inspire the use and sustainable management of the resources available to us in the American Southeast.

About Harrison

Harrison Floyd, a recent graduate of Clemson University with a Master of Architecture and Digital Ecologies certificate, also holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from the University of South Carolina. Harrison’s strong foundation in engineering allows him to bring a dynamic perspective to the projects with which he is involved.

While at Clemson, Harrison won the AIA Henry Adams Medal and the Edward Allen Student Award in 2021 and the Martin A. Davis Award in 2020, served as a graduate teaching assistant for Architecture Foundations, and worked at LS3P as a summer intern. He is currently teaching first- and second-year studios  at Clemson and is a Board Member of the Southern Off-Road Biking Association.