“This is a fantastic opportunity to assist our homeless veterans and show how an under-utilized timber species like coastal western hemlock can be combined with carbon fiber to provide an advanced building material that is very strong and durable,” Walter adds. “The combination of timber and tech is extremely exciting.”

Bridge agrees: “That’s an area I’m watching because it’s an interesting way for composites materials to add some real value in a hybridization format.”

Making a Structural Case

Each of these homes further build the case for use of composite materials in structural applications. It’s a case that needs to be built, as Kreysler finds that the product’s strength-to-weight ratio is often overlooked.

As Kreysler points out, composites are often specified for the stiffness they bring to a specific application. By the time the desired stiffness is achieved, the material is typically strong enough to provide structural benefits as well.

“We’re beginning to utilize composites in what I call a quasi-structural way,” he says. “In other words, making bigger spans between edges or utilizing composites to take advantage of their strengths as well as their durability and formability. That’s where the next big breakthroughs are going to be made.”

Such was the case for “A Gathering Place for Tulsa” in Oklahoma, which Kreysler completed in 2018. The park features a patio with an 8,000-square-foot composite canopy, comprised of 130 sail-shaped, curved panels. (Composites Manufacturing magazine featured the project in its March/April 2017 issue.)

Kreysler created each panel with a polyester resin and fiberglass skin around a balsa core. The resulting roof is stiff enough that the FRP supports itself; vertical steel columns hold the canopy over the patio below, but it’s the only use of structural steel. “Meeting the wind loads required to make that roof stay up was done by the composite material itself, which is unique,” says Kreysler.

More composites fabricators are looking to test these loads. While Janicki Industries has proven that composites are a suitable roofing material on numerous dome projects, the company is now developing a composite monocoque structural roof panel that is infused as a single piece. Bridge notes that applications may include living roofs, where this design could replace existing multi-layer approaches with a single strong, lightweight structure.

Poised for Growth

Composite materials are poised for growth in the architectural industry, and there’s plenty of room for more industry companies to jump on board and support that growth. “The fact of the matter is there are only a handful of people and companies that are really designing and fabricating composites for architecture,” says Ang.