BUILDING ARKANSAS (feat. Peter MacKeith)

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Show Notes

What's a triple bottom line? 

Why was Mass Timber the “Right Material” for Adohi hall at the University of Arkansas?

Our guest, Peter MacKeith, is Dean and Professor of Architecture at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas and was intimately involved in the building of Adohi hall. 

We're also joined, again, by our friend Donnie Williams. Donnie has some questions for Peter about the supply chain on this particular project!


Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design

Adohi Hall


Construction Junkie - best podcast of the year 2020


Tyler: Hey guys, Tyler here. Before we get going, I wanted to ask a favor. We were selected as a contestant in Construction Junkie’s Best Construction Podcast of 2020. In order to win this thing, we need your votes. So go into the show notes and you should see a link to All you have to do is go to the link, scroll all the way down to the bottom, and you should see a list of podcasts. Select ours, pretty please, and put your name and your email in, and that will cast a vote for us. There is also an option that you can select to opt out of his emails, but if you like construction related content, give it a go. Hey, what do you got to lose? You can always cancel it later. Thanks for voting for us. Thanks for being here. We appreciate you guys. Enjoy the show.


Tyler: Welcome to the Construction Brothers Podcast. I'm your host, Tyler Campbell, and with me, like he is every week: My brother, Eddie Campbell.

Eddie: What's up, Tyler?

Tyler: Not much, Eddie. This week, we are talking Adohi Hall with Peter MacKeith and Donnie Williams.


Interview: (8:30)

Eddie: All right, Peter, thank you for joining us today. Why don't you tell us who you are and what you do?

Peter MacKeith: My name is Peter MacKeith. I'm the Dean of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the University of Arkansas. Being the chief fiscal and academic officer of a school entails any number of responsibilities. I oversee and work with a great group of faculty in architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design. We have programs in community design, resiliency design, and a wonderful Woodland preserve in Hot Springs, Arkansas: Garvan Woodland Gardens. My work for the school is to advocate for our faculty and students and staff—and to, in many ways I would say, build programs and build resources for our faculty and students in the context of a public land grant university in which the primary mission of the University and therefore of our school is to serve the citizens of the state of Arkansas. And we do that through design, through design thinking, and through encouraging the active use of design in addressing imperative issues for the state, whether that's the use of renewable resources, addressing issues of social and cultural consequence, and very much again, hoping to build better lives for the citizens of the state of Arkansas and by extension the region and the nation.

Eddie: Well, it's a pleasure to have you on with us today. We also have an unprecedented event today: We've got Donnie with us again. 

Tyler: What is he doing here? 

Eddie: Why did he come back? (laughs) No, we invited him. 

Donnie Williams: I loved it so much. I just had to come back. 

Eddie: Well, you're setting records here. This is the first time on Construction Brothers for somebody to come back-to-back on the show. 

Tyler: You hacked into our Zoom meeting... 

Eddie: It's a Zoom bomb. 

Tyler: It's a Zoom bomb. (laughs) 

Eddie: Well Donnie, it's good to have you with us here today as well. And this did, this spun off an episode actually with Pete Kobelt, our conversation last week with you Donnie, and then now Peter. So this is all kind of built on itself. Now we have Peter here, and with this spinning off of Pete’s episode, he mentioned Adohi Hall and the work that was done there at the University of Arkansas. And so Peter, what was kind of your role or your interest in that project?

Peter MacKeith: Well Adohi Hall is a residence hall on campus for approximately 700 students. In its own way, it represents, I would say, a major step forward—not just for the University and for the state, but really nationally in the use of mass timber. Particularly, glue-laminated timber and cross-laminated timber in large scale multi-story construction. Adohi is, in fact, the second such construction on campus. It follows very quickly after, followed very quickly after, the completion of the library annex building, which was completed in 2019, which is itself a glulam structural frame and a cross-laminated timber panel envelope. This really laid the groundwork for Adohi, which again, 700 beds, but 200,000 square feet in essentially five story volumes, making it for the moment the largest such construction in the United States—and again, a beacon, really, for mass timber design and construction in the nation and in North America.

Tyler: So what made you guys pick mass timber? 

Peter MacKeith: A number of things all seemed to converge, I would say. In the first place, the understanding that I have had and have really reached out to others to build a similar understanding with which is that Arkansas, while in the minds of many having few resources, in fact, is blessed with a tremendous, singular resource in its forests. This is a state that is 57, 58% covered in forest. Hardwood, softwood in particular. And in fact, having identified that, I felt that there was an opportunity for the state to further develop itself economically as well as environmentally by making increased use of this prevalent natural resource. There are good people working at the University of Arkansas’s School of Forestry and Natural Resources in Monticello, Arkansas who have identified this particular kind of engineered timber as an area for growth, and that in fact it was an unexploited area altogether. This is especially important when so much of the state's cultivation is still in surplus. That in fact, the state's forests are producing more than can be used on an annual basis. So having identified both an environmental condition, as well as a possible economic development opportunity, I together with others advocated to the University that the University could be something of a greenhouse, maybe even a hot house for the prototyping of the use of this material. And the logic in this is both, let's say, to the larger interests of the state, but also the logic really comes to the fact that our students, they are increasingly keenly desirous of the University being a responsible actor with regard to climate change, regard to a wise stewardship of natural resources. And so the convergence, we can say, of a degree of idealism, plus a degree of pragmatism, what I always say a combination of poetry and pragmatism in some ways, really brought forward the belief that new buildings at the University could be conceived in this way, designed in this way, and constructed in this way. 

Eddie: Peter, what were some of the really nice outcomes from Adohi? 

Peter MacKeith: One of the multiple outcomes, really, emerging from Adohi, from library annex, from the mass timber initiative, just generally one is, I would say, the return in renewed form of thinking in timber and wood construction into architecture and engineering education. Not only in the teaching and learning that goes on, but also in the research and scholarship that goes on. And this of course is having overlaps, as you can see, with the work that Donnie's doing in business, others are doing in agriculture, others are doing in law for instance. So there's that expanded realm now of education beyond that. I would say there's very much now an economic enterprise dimension, very important for the state of Arkansas. It was estimated early on that there was this, that Arkansas was not taking advantage of what could be as much as 10 billion dollars of value-added manufacturing by not really investing in engineered timber production. We now see, as of last December, the investment of real significance in a cross-laminated timber production facility located in Conway, Arkansas, Central Arkansas, just North of Little Rock, which is going to be a Structurelam cross-laminated timber facility structure—that being a leading Canadian producer of CLT—but this is building a new jobs for the state of Arkansas. It's new opportunities for Arkansas forest and timber, it's new economy and economic development, not just for the center of the state, but really across the state. And it's going to be supplying mass timber for our third building here on the University of Arkansas campus in timber and wood, which will be the Anthony Timberlands Center for Design and Materials Innovation. So we have, I would propose, kickstarted a real initiative that is a value in education in the economy and the environment. And for me, that's a triple bottom line that is unbeatable. And it's been a very important, I think, development for the school, the University and the state. 

Eddie: One of the things that really strikes me is how much that aligns itself with what you described as your goals and your role in the University. This was a mission to look at what the state was good at and what the state had at its fingertips and use that well, wasn't it?

Peter MacKeith: Exactly. It is, I would say, the responsibility of every school and college of the state public land grant university to think in this way. And I, my colleagues have been supportive with Donnie here. I want to give a shout out to the Dean of the Walton College of Business, Matt Waller, who's been extremely, not just supportive, but very encouraging, inspiring as to the outreach to people in the business community, in the industry community. And so the idea of alliances and partnerships beyond the University to build a better state has been central to this thinking. It has to be said that this is economic development of real importance to the rural communities of Arkansas. Long overlooked and undervalued people in the Southeast and the Southwest in particular, this is a new avenue of hope and opportunity for them. And that, to me, is one of the most meaningful aspects of what we're doing.

Eddie: I like that not only have you come in and given thought to choosing the right material for this project—we made a point of that in a previous conversation, that this wasn't about trying to press one type of material necessarily, but to try to use the right type of material for the project at hand. But this was also innovative in the delivery methods that were used.

Peter MacKeith: It's true. I think the first place, if I take a half step back here, I think your point about using the right material, using the right techniques, making the right decisions amongst the architects, engineers, and contractors as a group is always essential to achieving the best construction, the best facility, the best building for any constituency, any occupancy. And so in this sense, there are of course moments where this would be concrete, or this would be steel. I think what's been important in the case of mass timber in specific, is the absolute necessity, because of the means of construction necessary in mass timber construction to bring all of those important partners together as soon as possible at the very very front end of the project. Mass timber privileges insist upon integrated project delivery from the very outset. Mass timber insists upon, from the very start, Building Information Modeling, which is comprehensive, which is shared amongst all partners in the enterprise. And I have often used the word of mass, or the phrase of “The mass timber is a knowledge sharing economy.” This was passed on to me by a Austrian academic, the godfather of cross-laminated timber, Gerhard Schickhoefer at the Technical University of Graz, who has emphatically stated to me that working with the forests and timber and wood industries is a knowledge sharing economy. And it's very much the case when it's all brought to bear upon buildings of any size or scale in mass timber.

Eddie: As you talk about the necessity to use something like an IPD, Integrated Project Delivery, BIM and different methods, you know, it really is imperative that we use kind of the best means—not only for material, but also the best means for bringing the project together. And so, this I believe is really kind of why we brought in and kind of wrapped Donnie in here with this episode, is because of his interest and his expertise in supply chain logistics and that sort of thing. So I want to kind of dovetail off of that, turn it over to Donnie, and let him chime in a little bit here.

Donnie Williams: Thank you, Eddie. Peter, such an inspiring— I love how you've just kind of given us the vision and the heart behind the project, particularly as we look at mass timber and the integration that it has required from so many components. I know we've talked on the podcast that I was on with Eddie and them. What attracted me to supply chain so much was exactly what you just described as far as the integration collaboration that it takes from so many players, whether it's architects, engineers, contractors, and bringing them together so that you can actually deliver a beautiful product that is both pragmatic and inspirational to its users. And I think we see this in the construction industry just about more than any other industry that I'm aware of, if you think about the type of product that you're actually delivering to a consumer and people that use it every day. And so we had talked a little bit about mass timber and vertical integration previously, and I was curious as you begin to think back on this, these two projects that we did at the University of Arkansas—tell us a little bit about the vertical integration and the aspect of that as it relates to mass timber, and why that's so important for that ecosystem as we think about the economy and our rural communities and that type of thing. What is it about vertical integration that makes this so special?

Peter MacKeith: Well, with respect to your discipline and your school, I'd make no claims to being a trained economist or in finance. But in fact, I think what allies the work that you do and the work that I do, in fact, is the utterly human dimension of an economy and a design enterprise; which is to say, every material implies and every technique of construction implies people, implies a human element and a human factor in the selection of materials, even in the production of materials, in the mass timber cause maybe in particular, although there are reasons to think of mass timber as exceptional. But as I say, there always are human dimensions, but this is where the vertical integration extends from those who cultivate and steward the forest to those who ultimately select the trees to be felled, those who transport those trees to the saw mill, those who grade the trees as they arrive into the saw mill, those who operate those machines. You could take this forward through the drawing process, the laminating process, the CNC milling process, the panelizing process, and then the transportation whether it's rail or river or road to bring those panels to the site all the way then to the teams of constructors who erect them based upon the work that architects and engineers have done, this is a hands-on process at some point, it is not abstract or generic. It's not distant. And of course, I think that's very much communicated through the kind of interiors and exteriors of mass timber constructed buildings. This to me is where vertical integration and even supply chain logistics really does have this completely, I think, an important human dimension to it very, very close to the surface. And when we are in a wooden building, I think we, I would contend perhaps can grasp the humanity that informs all the decisions along the line that much more directly and powerfully.

Donnie Williams: Peter, some of my favorite projects in the past that I worked on in my career in construction were projects that were developed with wood. And so, thinking about mass timber is such a special product to me, just because of the connection that you have with the materials around you at all times. And that I certainly get that feeling as I was driving past—and help me with the correct pronunciation, again, it's Adohi, is that right? Okay. I wanted to make sure I got that right. Adohi Hall, and just seeing those large beams being constructed. And I began to think about it. We, in our previous conversation, you were talking about the impact of the vertical integration on communities. And you know, typically when we think about vertical integration, we're thinking about one company kind of owning the whole supply chain, you know, from the ground all the way to delivering that particular product. Is that what we're seeing in this industry? And how is that having an impact on those communities? I know you've talked about examples in Europe and how this is impacting those communities. I would love to hear you talk about that.

Peter MacKeith: Of course, one thing to note is that Adohi is a Cherokee word, and the Cherokee language is extremely dynamic and multidimensional. So Adohi really has a transitive dimension to it. It actually means coming into the forest or arriving into the forest, and I think a very beautiful understanding of the building itself. So again, there's a humanity in the naming of the building. But to come to your point, yes, these are, I would say, all ways of thinking about mass timber lead to ways of thinking more generally about what I would call a forest economy. Really based on a forest mentality, which is the interconnectedness of every aspect of bringing wood into a construction material, from the planting all the way to the milling and then the construction process. I think what's important to understand in the first place is that both Adohi and the library annex building are in fact built with Austrian-produced mass timber, not produced here in the United States. Again, I need to credit Binderholz of Austria for this. And Binderholz is a good example of this type of integration, in that they're situated within the forests of Austria, they have strong relationships with Timberland owners, they own the mills, they own the processing plants and so forth. They are as focused now on the milling, CNC milling, and the panelizing, and even the modular constructions that can emerge from those panels as they are upon the highest quality production of the panels to begin with. There are other examples in Europe of this type of vertical integration or near vertical integration, whole communities emerging in Finland, for instance, where again, the forests are connected to the logging, logging to saw mill, saw mills to drawing, drawing to laminating. And then by extension, milling, panelizing and modular construction. They may or may not all be under the same umbrella ownership, but they're all in a sense chained together—or connected together, put it more organically—in ways that really produce an entire community based out of, again, a forest, a forest economy, and a forest mentality. That does not yet quite exist here in the United States or Canada. It could be, I think, asserted as you've probably heard from Pete Kobelt, that Katerra has ambitions of that direction. But I would say that increasingly then there are the opportunities, certainly in the Southeast of the U.S. for similar types of communities of integration or near integration to exist.

Donnie Williams: So one of the things we talked about in the last podcast, for the construction industry, is how in many ways it can be a very disconnected industry. You know, I don't look past maybe the supplier or the wholesaler that I'm purchasing my products from. In some cases, I don't look past the general contractor that has hired me. I'm not concerned really about the customer, I'm just working and doing a job right. And so this kind of approach that you're talking about really, to me, kind of helps me think about the systemic nature of supply chains in the construction industry. And as you were talking about those connections in the communities or those links, or through the milling process and the development of those panels and the engineered lumber, do you think this is something that's going to spread over or bleed over into other areas of the construction industry in this particular type model? Will this be something that has a potential becoming more of a norm that contractors and producers need to think about their full supply chains moving forward?

Peter MacKeith: Well, I do, although I—and I don't want to sound too idealistic or too unrealistic perhaps in this, because of course some of these supply chains have long histories and long established ways of working which are highly efficient, I know, and profitable, and can make a lot of sense—but, you know, generally speaking, no matter what material we are bringing forward for use in design and construction, there is I think now a well-established and necessary interest in the origins of that material. How, where it's coming from, how it's being produced, who's involved in it, the labor value as much as the actual material value. And some of these values, of course, are qualitative. We'll call them the sustainable quotients, perhaps, as much as they are quantitative in terms of financial calculations that are involved. I think people do have an increasing interest in that hidden dimension of how things are designed for them, how things are constructed for them, and are asking those questions. Some of those questions, of course, move into policy or code now, too. And we are moving well beyond, of course, lead certification processes into much more sophisticated and more searching estimates of those sustainable dimensions. But there, too, I will say, in my work as an educator in our work in the school, we are always emphasizing to our students the need to know where things come from, where materials are coming from, how they're being manufactured, who's involved in their manufacturing. If nothing else, so that you acquire a respect for those who are doing that good work in the world. And so that you can work effectively with those people at the manufacturing end and very much on the construction sites, there is no cause anymore for a separation of labor, from knowledge, so to speak. We're all invested in the same effort altogether.

Tyler: All right. Well, I think we've come to our final point here. So this is our megaphone question. This is what we love to ask everybody. If we gave you a megaphone that the entire construction industry could hear for only 60 seconds, what would you tell them?

Peter MacKeith: Sixty seconds to speak to the construction industry. One point to make is the common cause that I've identified, hopefully, almost throughout this entire conversation. Architects, engineers, contractors are all ever more, I think, linked together—and are all, I believe, increasingly being trained and educated to work together. This is an utterly collaborative, interdisciplinary, interprofessional enterprise. To make a building that is for others is to work selflessly at some level. And to work on behalf of others requires, I would say, an innate sense of responsibility in the choice of materials, the choice of construction, the choices you make in design. I would want colleagues in the construction industry to grasp that the responsibility that I feel as an educator goes beyond just the quality and character of mass timber. It really goes much more fundamentally to asserting that there is a deep relationship that exists between design and construction, a deep respect that exists between architects, engineers, and contractors, and that great buildings emerge small scale or large scale by virtue of that mutual respect and that collaboration, that understanding that we are all connected in this general ecological sense. So I appreciate that soapbox for 60 seconds.

Tyler: Of course, of course. So where can people find you, Peter?

Peter MacKeith: I am at the University of Arkansas. I have an email address at the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design, which is my last name at I gladly look forward to comments and observations. I'm always in a listening stance and certainly willing to learn that much more about how to build well.

Tyler: Perfect. Well, thank you. Thank you for being with us today, Peter. And Donnie, thanks for being here again, man. 

Donnie Williams: It's always fun hangin’ out with you guys.


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