Museum of Nebraska Art ‘Topping Out’ Celebrated with Timber Beam

The use of mass timber has been instrumental in the project achieving carbon neutrality.

Tue 17 Oct 23


The new Museum of Nebraska Art (otherwise known as MONA) has ‘topped out’ with construction crews celebrating the milestone with a signature-covered timber beam.

Located in Kearney, Nebraska, the crews celebrated another step in the two-and-a-half-year expansion and renovation project, which includes a 7000-square-metre timber roof.

“It’s not about a small constituency; it’s not about a certain type of art; it’s about the whole state,” according to Jon Maass, a museum consultant based in New York City.

“The amount of pride that comes together around the building like this, around the museum like this, is impressive.”

Time-lapse of the renovation. Footage courtesy of @museumofnebraskaart9647.

According to Mr Maass, mass timber construction is rare in museum construction, with the columns, beams and flooring all made from timber, “which has added sustainability and aesthetic benefits.”

“It’s going to lend a substantial warmth to the building,” Mr Maass said.

 “Nearly all of the members that you see there will be exposed. So it really does become a significant component to the overall experience when you’re inside the building.”

Designed by BVH Architects, ‘MONA’ draws heavily “on the established visual language of the region” with mass timber “carefully selected to ensure the museum’s legacy of beauty and sustainability.”

In 2021, BVH Architects visited Timberlyne’s manufacturing facilities, where the architects saw the actual beams, columns and connectors fabricated with their own eyes. (Photo Credit: BVH Architects)

Using a mass timber structure, the project is the first government building in Kearney to achieve “carbon neutrality.

The timber-rich museum uses glue-laminated timber beams and columns, with cross-laminated panels instead of metal desks in the flooring systems.

Provided by Timberlyne, BVH’s Matt Fitzpatrick said, “Our team was very fortunate to see the actual beams, columns, and steel connections being fabricated and finished for our project on-site in real-time.”

“Timberlyne’s impressive new Hundegger robot and routing machine were fully displayed, creating the most complex joinery applications imaginable.” 

Timberlyne’s impressive new Hundegger robot and routing machine were fully displayed, creating the most complex joinery applications imaginable. (Photo Credit: BVH Architects)

According to Mr Fitzpatrick, using mass timber over steel was all about carbon.

Measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per square foot (kgCO2e/sf), the average embodied carbon of a steel framed structure is 34.5 kgCO2e/sf, whereas the timber structure averages 22.7 kgCO2e/sf. 

“Evaluating the total mass of timber’s embodied carbon from the beams, columns, and decking, including the steel connections and miscellaneous steel structural elements, totals one (1) kgCO2e/sf, nearly carbon neutral,” the studio said.

According to Past Board Chair Tom Gallagher, it’s been a hectic process to get to this point after breaking ground in December 2021, but he says it’s worth knowing the US $31 million (AU $40 million) project is closing in on completion.

In December 2021, BVN Architecture and Morrissey Engineers attended a ceremony to celebrate the groundbreaking. (Image Credit: UNK News)

“It’s a way to show off the art and culture and history of Nebraska,” Gallagher said. “That’s something that we want people to share. Also, it helps us unify. It helps us all be one set of Nebraskans.”

Staff will be able to occupy the building in April, the landscaping will be done in the summer, and the museum should open in late summer or early fall.

“When you have an opportunity to get to this point and see that happen, it’s special,” Mr Maass said. 

This accomplishment comes after the structural stair towers have been finished and cleared the way for constructing the expansion’s curtain wall. 

The usage of mass timber is new to the Kearney region and provides a durable, low-carbon substitute for conventional frame techniques while also combining sustainability, structural stability, and design flexibility.


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