Catalyst Building

Architects: MGA | Michael Green Architecture, Katerra

Owner: South Landing Investors, LLC

Location: Spokane, Washington

Category: Holistic Design

Born of close collaboration and a set of shared values, Spokane’s Catalyst Building is a testament to the fact that wood buildings can meet and exceed the performance of their steel and concrete counterpoints. Composed of more than 4,000 cubic meters of cross-laminated timber and glulam products, it is expected to be one of the largest buildings in North America to achieve Zero Energy and Zero Carbon certifications from the International Living Future Institute.

The project is one important step in completing the larger vision of energy company Avista, who is working to build the “five smartest blocks in the world” in Spokane. The Catalyst Building sits in a light industrial neighborhood poised for revitalization. It is situated adjacent to the Gateway Bridge, an elevated walkway that connects pedestrians and cyclists to the two university core areas.  

Two staggered volumes connected by a central bar comprise the building’s simple massing, a direct response to the irregularly shaped site. Clad in modest terracotta, the volumes evoke a sense of timeless elegance. The central bar functions as a beacon when viewed from the University District, while, on the south side, it aligns with the adjacent roadway, forming a strong axis.

The team employed a number of mass timber solutions where steel, concrete, or framed systems would be traditionally called upon. The resulting 165,000-square-foot, five-story, high-performing building was delivered for less than $250 per square foot. Perhaps more importantly, a life cycle assessment has demonstrated that the timber’s carbon storage almost completely offsets the carbon impact generated by construction.

The innovative use of timber in the primary structure, lateral shear walls, and exterior walls required the design and build teams to collaborate closely to develop smart construction and installation solutions, chief among them prefabricated systems. The exterior walls were partially prefabricated off-site to allow for faster dry-in times and to reduce exterior trade coordination. Similarly, the ribbed floor panels and slat walls found in the lobby were also prefabricated in an effort to reduce field labor.

“This is a comprehensive piece of architecture. It is holistic from the site to the means and methods and everything in between. The cross-laminated pieces of timber are not only well done, but very impactful when you consider embodied carbon. This is a good example of how we can take standard structures and reconsider materiality.” ~ Jury comment

A number of passive strategies were employed for the building, including rainwater capture, envelope design based on the Passive House Standard principles, and durable material application with a design life expectancy of 75 years. It is also topped with a significant solar photovoltaic array that will generate upward of 300,000 kilowatt-hours per year. Adjacent to the Catalyst Building, the Scott Morris Centre for Energy Innovation houses the centralized heating, cooling, and electrical systems for the Innovation District. This system includes solar panels, battery, and thermal storage, and is managed through a smart grid that allows for real-time, automated energy management, resulting in lower energy consumption and expense.

Given its location, the building serves as a place where industry and academia can collide, offering flexible spaces for both. Eastern Washington University is the primary tenant, and it will bring over 1,000 electrical engineering, computer science, and design students to the building to work alongside other private industry tenants. A true living laboratory, the Catalyst Building resonates with the university’s commitment to sustainability while serving as a critical hub for growth in the region.

Additional information

Architect of Record: Katerra

Consultant -  Acoustic: Aercoustics

Consultant - Code: Code Unlimited

Consultant - Envelope: RDH Building Science Inc.

Consultant - Geotechnical: AECOM

Design Architect: MGA | Michael Green Architecture  

Engineer - Civil: DCI Engineers

Engineer - MEP: McKinstry

Engineer - Structural: KPFF Consulting Engineers

General Contractor: Katerra

Landscape Architect: Bernardo Wills Architects

Mass Timber Engineering + Product: Katerra    

Tenant: Avista, McKinstry, Eastern Washington University

Vertical Transportation: Lerch Bates  


Violet Whitney, Chair, SideWalk Labs, New York, NY

Chris Giattina, BLOX, Bessemer, Alabama

William Zahner, Hon. AIA, A Zahner Company, Kansas City, Missouri

Yanel deAngel, AIA, Perkins+Will, Boston, MA

Charlie Williams, AIA, LPA, Irvine, California

Image credits

The Catalyst Building South-West Corner

Benjamin Benschneider

Catalyst Building entrance

Benjamin Benschneider

The Catalyst Building Atrium

Benjamin Benschneider

Timber interior

Benjamin Benschneider

Catalyst Building railway context

Benjamin Benschneider