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Down by the Riverside

A Waterfront Clubhouse adds elegance to a Pittsburgh Community

Timber Homes Illustrated • December 2002
Story by Roland Sweet • Photos by Roger Wade
Reprinted by permission of Timber Homes Illustrated
Copyright © 2002 by Goodman Media Group, Inc.,

People keep finding new uses for traditional timber framing. Just recently, for example, Continental Communities Ltd. undertook to turn some land formerly owned by U.S. Steel along the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh into a mile-long garden apartment community, the Residence at the Waterfront. The Columbus, Ohio, developer included plans for a clubhouse that would serve as a gathering place for the residents. It would feature generally open space inside and include a central great room with a cozy fireplace, an exercise area, meeting rooms, offices, and rooms for social functions and meetings. The aim was for the building to be appropriately designed for both the community and the setting. Continental Communities asked Riverbend Timber Framing of Blissfield, Michigan, to provide the desired look.

Why timber frame? An obvious reason is that timber framing helps to achieve the openness that the developer wanted for the layout. But there were aesthetic considerations, too. "Jack Lucks, the owner and CEO of Continental Communities, likes traditional buildings, Riverbend's Stewart Elliott says. "In this particular case, he wanted the clubhouse to look like a typical boathouse that is on the river. In addition, he loves the character of big timber."

To capture the right look, the clubhouse uses several hundred oak timbers, generally 7 by 11 inches for the columns and up to 7 by 15 inches for the beams. The exterior rafters for the upper-level wrap-around porch are 5 by 7 inches. After being given the size, appearance and specific space arrangements for the building, Riverbend designed the frame to support it. The company also provided the engineering and construction drawings for the architectural work and the shop drawings for the timber frame.

Although the 5,200-square-foot clubhouse in many ways resembles a residence, because it is a non-residential building, it had to be designed to accommodate more people than a home. Stewart estimates that about 30 percent of Riverbend's projects are non-residential— offices, churches, restaurants, golf clubhouses and such. These buildings have to meet stricter requirements for loading, general access and fire evacuation.

Although the 5,200-square-foot clubhouse in many ways resembles a residence, because it is a non-residential building, it had to be designed to accommodate more people than a home. Stewart estimates that about 30 percent of Riverbend's projects are non-residential— offices, churches, restaurants, golf clubhouses and such. These buildings have to meet stricter requirements for loading, general access and fire evacuation.

Such considerations pose additional challenges for the frame design. In the case of the clubhouse, for example, Riverbend used bigger timbers throughout and included several laminated beams to help support the hipped-roof system, which is the heart of the building's design. Another distinguishing feature of the design is the wrap-around porch on the second level, above finished space.

Otherwise, the timber frame looks and functions about as it would in a home. "The size of it, the use of space and the nature of the frame and the overall philosophy of the frame isn't that unusual," Stewart says. The frame also gives the interior less of an institutional flavor and a more inviting appearance.

Once Riverbend raised the frame and enclosed it with Insulspan structural panels, the exterior was faced with stained cedar shingles. Inside, the frame was whitewashed but much denser than usual so that it looks almost painted. Even so, the character of the oak shows through.

A second clubhouse, identical in design but finished and decorated differently, uses a more natural wood color for the timbers.

The clubhouse opened this spring. It's eye-catching interior has made it not just a community center, but also a real showpiece. It further demonstrates timber framing's versatility.

For more photos of this project, visit our Flickr Gallery.

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